Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, award winners, it is my privilege tonight to speak on and present the 2015 Leida Finlayson Memorial Scholarship. Robyn Pike asked me if I would come and say a few words about Leida and the scholarship that bears her name. I am very happy to do this, and I think it is a very appropriate thing. We are in the business of preserving heritage, and I am delighted to be asked to act as the bearer of memory and witness to our own organizational history.
I suspect that some of you here tonight didn’t know Leida Finlayson, who was the first general manager of the Newfoundland Historic Trust.
I was wondering how I might, in the exactly three minutes that Robyn has allotted me, to give you a sense of a person’s life.
I met Leida in what was, in retrospect, a typically Leida way. We met by letter. Letters today are rare and precious things, and of all the people I know, it is fitting that Leida is the only person in my circle of acquaintances that I met by way of a carefully and delightfully worded piece of correspondence. I regret that I don’t have that letter, but I still remember it. She was witty, clever, and engaging. In one word, she was charming, even on paper.
Indeed, I think that was one of Leida’s greatest gifts: she was absolutely charming, possessed of the ability to make pretty much anyone fall in love with her. If her time with us had been longer, she would have made a perfect diplomat.
I am delighted that the awards presentation tonight is back in the Newman Wine Vaults Provincial Historic Site, because I have great memories of Leida here in this space, long before there was anything as glamorous here as plumbing, or electricity, or even a floor. She swept in here before the restoration was even complete, and set about organizing a series of fund-raising teas, one of the first public events held here in the vaults, which were very popular, even in the darkness and dust.
Leida shone in those types of events. She had an old-fashioned glamour, and loved any excuse to dress up. She loved high heels, long gloves, and makeup. She wore fabulous hats. These were things which were something of a mystery to her parents, Duncan and Renee, who had been part of the back-to-the land hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Leida was more high-fashion than homespun. Duncan swears they weren’t really hippies, but as Leida said, at that time, in the rural Newfoundland where she spent her girlhood, “a little hippie went a long way.”
While her fashion sense was different from her parents, she shared many of their ideals.
She wrote political commentary, was intensely interested in history, heritage, politics, and social justice. She was smart, passionate, and interested in the world.
When Leida passed away in 2003, we established a scholarship in her memory. It was determined that the scholarship would be directed to a Memorial University student of history or political studies, two of Leida’s passions, and that it would be presented annually as part of the Trust's Southcott Awards.
I am very pleased tonight to present the Leida Finlayson Memorial Scholarship to Sarah Hannon, one of our community’s next generation of smart, passionate young women. Congratulations Sarah on your academic work, and on behalf of the Trust, I commend you and encourage you in your pursuit of excellence. And on behalf of Leida, I would also encourage you to take every opportunity you have to wear a fabulous hat.
Sarah, if you would come forward, I would love to present you with the Leida Finlayson Memorial Scholarship.
- Dale Jarvis