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Lt-guv with a mission
For Quebec Lieutenant-Governor Lise Thibault, destiny and will work hand in hand to form a life.
"I believe that every human being is born with a mission," Thibault declared to open the 2000 Muriel V. Roscoe Lecture. "Perhaps we only realize the grandeur of that phrase when we acquire some life experience, and we ask, 'why did I do certain things, why did I get involved the way I did, why did I serve the way I did?'"
Thibault recounted an unlikely route to her career in public life, first as owner of a florist shop, then as a school teacher, after the birth of her second daughter.
"In my family, we only had three choices as a direction for our lives: become a nurse, a teacher, or work in an office. None of these choices really interested me, but those were my options back then. Nevertheless, I've always believed that we can decide what we want to be and what we want to do."
While working as a teacher, Thibault first embraced a leadership role as the founder of a women's group in Laval.
"We all came from different places; we didn't have roots in Laval. So, I founded a women's club; 15 months later, we had 500 members. Those women became my sisters. I tried to create hope and create spirit; I don't know how many of them went back to school, decided to become involved, to found a movement, to create, to write."
Toward the end of her teaching career, in 1978, Thibault entered public life as a member of the commission established by the Quebec Department of Education to oversee the language of instruction. In the 1980s, the late premier, Robert Bourassa, asked Thibault, who is confined to a wheelchair, to become vice-president for Relations with Beneficiaries at the Quebec Occupational Health and Safety Commission. She embraced the role as an opportunity to help injured and recently disabled people benefit from her experience.
"People who have been injured at work need so much support. A lot of these people thought that you can recover by just spending an hour with a physiotherapist, and when they get back home, the work was finished. That's not true; you have to work to get better. Many don't know that you have to heal in your mind and your heart before you can heal in your body. Maybe because of my wheelchair, I could tell them these simple truths."
Thibault was also appointed President and Director General of the Quebec Bureau for the Handicapped.
"I've always felt that organizations for the handicapped don't completely fulfill their role; they must be organizations which give people the tools to move back into real life and become an inspiration, serving with all the abilities we have left. That was our most important role."
Despite tackling many challenges without hesitation, Thibault admitted she was nervous when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien asked her to become Quebec's first female lieutenant-governor.
"But I always said that when someone asks you to take on a responsibility, it's because you are the best person for the job. That's what it means to have faith in oneself. When I took on this role, I didn't create a persona; I simply presented a woman with varied experience, one who is able to reach into the hearts of people and tell them that they are responsible for their own lives, and that they can, in their own way, create their own lives."
After her speech, Thibault presented a plaque to Florence Tracy of Royal Victoria College, in recognition of the College's 100th anniversary. The lecture was presented by the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women, the McGill Women's Alumnae Association, and the Royal Victoria College Centennial Committee.