Honourable Brenda Mary Robertson (nee Tubb)
With deep sorrow, we share the news of Brenda Mary Robertson’s (nee Tubb) passing on the evening of September 23, 2020, at her home in Monarch Hall in Riverview, New Brunswick.
Born on May 23, 1929, Brenda is predeceased by her husband Wilmont "Willie" Robertson, brother Ron Tubb and sister Thelma Hepple. She leaves to mourn children Douglas (Katherine) Robertson, Moncton, NB; Leslie (Ken Wood), Winnipeg, MB; and Tracy (Ross) Langley, Halifax, NS; as well as grandchildren Cameron, Toronto, ON; Ellen (Bruno) Cohen, Halifax, NS; Mary (Marc Thomson) Langley, Toronto, ON; Christopher (Victoria Rochon), Oakville, ON; David Langley, Halifax, NS; and Wil Robertson, Moncton, NB.
To truly appreciate Brenda’s uncompromising determination, one must reflect on her formative years that were shaped by her parents and their modest beginnings. Brenda was a first-generation Canadian, born in Mount Hebron (Sussex), and grew up during the post-war era on the family farm. One of three brothers orphaned and living on the streets of Birmingham, England, James Tubb arrived at Pier 21 at the tender age of 9. He and his brothers traveled to Middlemore in Saint John where they were dispersed to work on farms in the surrounding area in exchange for room and board. Farm work brought James to Alberta where he enlisted with the 10th Artillery Division of the Canadian Army and spent 4 years fighting for "his country" in battles in the French theatre. He would marry his nursemaid, Clara, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean with him and settled on a tract of land awarded to him by the Canadian government in honour of his service. Together they built a homestead with farming operations that would require the help of farmhands, including their children.
Brenda was the youngest of three children who were encouraged to complete their education and pursue employment opportunities outside of farming. Brenda graduated from Sussex High School in 1946. The class valedictorian was also a standout on the debate team, baseball team, and her passion, basketball. Brenda’s skill for basketball continued during her studies at Mount Allison University where she completed her Bachelor of Sciences degree in Home Economics in 1950, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
Following what Brenda referred to as "a brief stint" at teaching at Saint John High School that was just long enough to confirm that the education system stifled her, she started selling fine china and silverware. It was during this time that she met and married her partner in life and business, Wil. They married in 1955, started a family, and decided to bring their business to Riverview. Despite her nation-leading sales, Brenda was denied a sales office because she was a female – so her husband Wil applied, and together they ran one of the most successful sales offices in the country.
Brenda became active in the local chapter of the Progressive Conservative Women’s Association during the 1960s, including a period as their president. It was they who encouraged Brenda to consider seeking the nomination for what was then the County of Albert provincial riding. The riding would later become that of Riverview, where she would serve as their first MLA. Before that, in 1967 she became the first female Member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick (MLA) and would be re-elected four more times until her appointment to the Senate in 1984. Brenda became the first female cabinet minister in 1970, serving in Richard Hatfield’s government starting in 1970 as Minister of Youth and later included portfolios such as Social Services and Health. She did not shy away from undertaking challenging tasks with great responsibility in her various portfolio’s, including changing the name of the department of welfare to the department of social services so that the breadth of support provided by the department would be better reflected; not to mention lessen the stigma of the department’s clients. However, Brenda was most proud of the ExtraMural Program which she and her devoted Deputy Minister Bill Morissey researched, developed, and implemented. The program inspired healthcare reform across the country and indeed the globe, and it remains a hallmark of healthcare delivery today. In addition to her actions in government, Brenda was a mentor throughout her life for numerous Premiers, Senators, Members of Parliament, MLAs, Deputy Ministers, Executive Assistants, and countless civil servants past and present.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney called Brenda to the senate in 1984 where she carried her wealth of knowledge and experience to the national stage, for the betterment of all Canadians, particularly regarding health and social services. She worked tirelessly until her retirement at the age of 75 in 2004. Upon the occasion of her last sitting in the Senate of Canada, Senators rose to honour Brenda Robertson. The Hon. Noël A. Kinsella said this of Brenda in tribute:
"Clearly, this senator is a role model – a role model, yes, for women to participate in public affairs, but also a role model for all who wish to excel in service to society."
Throughout her life and career, Brenda fought for the things she believed in and cared about, doing so in a way that led others to join her. Her leadership, achievements, passion, loyalty, and commitment were honoured during and after her lengthy career in the public sphere. In 1973, she was given an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mount Saint Vincent University. Following this, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. In 1983, l’Université de Moncton gave her an Honorary Doctorate of Social Sciences. Brenda received the key to the Town of Riverview as well. She received the Order of New Brunswick in 2004 and was later bestowed with the Order of Canada in 2008. Brenda Robertson was a true inspiration and trailblazer and leaves a legacy for not only those who knew her, but for her community, province, and country.
There will be no visitation and a private service will be held for the family. A celebration of life will be planned at a later date. Donations in Brenda’s memory may be made to the Friends of The Moncton Hospital Foundation for the Angel Fund helping breast cancer patients, the early fundraising for which she served as honourary chair.