Biography of Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson
Her Life Set the Standard for Women Everywhere
Editor: Following is part of the eulogy delivered by Lt-Gov Margaret Norrie McCain at the funeral service for Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson who passed away on Friday, April 11, 1997.
Muriel McQueen Fergusson was many things. The public record shows that she was a lawyer long before women would be accepted into the profession. She was a city councilor in Fredericton, the first woman senator from the Atlantic region and the first woman to serve as Speaker of the Senate. She was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees.
She was a tireless and uncompromising activist for the rights of women and the poor. No project undertaken by others to advance the cause of humanity was too small to gain her moral support. She spent her life setting the standard for New Brunswick women and women everywhere, whatever their ambitions for themselves and their society. That is the public side of Senator Fergusson--her remarkable achievements.
For those of us who were privileged to have known her on a personal level, she was many other things as well. She was good company--intelligent, entertaining and gracious. She was meticulously organized. She was creative; she loved to garden, cook and crochet. This was in the early years, before she became a busy activist for the poor, for women, and for any group needing a stalwart champion.
She was a devoted wife. When her husband, Aubrey, became too ill to continue his law practice in Grand Falls, Muriel stayed up half the night thinking about how to counsel his clients. The advice was so sound that some of the clients believed Muriel was simply passing on the information provided by her husband. She never corrected that belief.
She was outspoken, never reticent about expressing her opinions. Bishop Harold Nutter knew this better than most. He recalls that Muriel didn't always agree with the Bishop's statements from the pulpit--and she let him know.
She was kind. Says Noreen (Muriel McQueen Fergusson’s niece) : "I never, never, ever heard her say an unkind word about anyone. This didn't mean she didn't have an opinion, but she would never say anything that might hurt someone's feelings."
She was tenacious. We saw this often in her public life; but it was very much present in her personal affairs as well. When Muriel retired and moved to Fredericton, she deeply wanted to become a member of the St Andrew Society. This was no quick and easy task. The Society required extensive documentation to prove Scottish ancestry before admitting a new member. Muriel worked for days and weeks collecting and preparing the evidence, and she was thrilled when she received word she had been accepted into the Society.
This ability to research and document a subject has endeared the senator to historians. She did not have the advantage of staff researchers, electronic reference material, and secretaries to prepare her speeches. For this, she earned the respect and gratitude of historians who greatly value the Muriel McQueen Fergusson papers at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.
She was reflective, particularly in her later years. When Muriel was 96, Noreen took her for a vacation to Shediac where the senator had been born and raised. The cottage where they stayed was on Shediac Bay and Muriel spent long hours looking out of the water, pondering her youth. She told Noreen: "I wish I could go for a swim, just one more time."
She was barely five feet tall and soft spoken; but she exuded great strength, commitment, passion and determination. In her quiet manner, this diminutive woman commanded attention whenever she took on a cause.
It was once said that Muriel McQueen Fergusson had a "presence" that filled a room and influenced others to follow her. I know that her presence is all around us today as we collectively celebrate her life and the part she played in our lives as aunt, friend, colleague and role model.
Her life was well lived, and I am certain all of us would agree that she will continue to inspire and influence us for years to come. We will miss her greatly, but we will remember her well.