08 May 2006

Patricia Anne Cowan, 1943 -2006

I don't recall when I first met Pat Cowan. It was most likely April 20, 1989 at Hotel Newfoundland when she joined her fellow newly-elected Liberal members of the House of Assembly to celebrate their victory.

What I will always remember will be her cheerfulness, her positive disposition and her passionate commitment to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. News of her passing today hit hard, much as it would when a member of the family dies. I haven't spoken to Pat in a few years but memories are as strong as they ever were.

Born in Ontario, Pat came to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1974 to teach. She was a school principal after 1980, elected to the executive of the Newfoundland Teachers' Association (NTA) in 1983 and served as the NTA's first woman president from 1987 to 1989. Cowan served as Minister of Employment and Labour Relations in the first Wells administration.

Others have remembered her commitment to saving greyhounds from being euthanised after their racing careers were over. God save us all if that is all people remember of a truly remarkable woman. While it is too easy to remember the dim-bulbs and the charlatans who infest public life in our province, Pat Cowan was a person who reminded us of the ability and compassion that is more common among public figures than the nay-sayers out there would admit.

In late 1994, Pat was appointed chair of a committee of the House of Assembly - the Select Committee in Childrens' Interests - to examine issues relating to children and youth of Newfoundland and Labrador. It's report, LISTENing & ACTing: A Plan for Child, Youth and Community Empowerment, recommended the creation of a child, youth and family secretariat within government and a child and youth advocate reporting to the legislature.

The work of that committee never went very far after the election of Brian Tobin but Pat did serve as a consultant on development of the strategic social plan consultation paper in 1996.

Pat's efforts on behalf of children and the young people of our province were rewarded with the election of Roger Grimes as leader of the Liberal party and Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001.

The work Pat completed along with Gerald Smith and Harvey Hodder, the other members of the committee, should be her legacy. It reflects not merely her lifelong concern for young people, but also of the commitment to the whole community in which she lived and to the province which became her home.

As the committee put it: "If society chooses to view a child with problems in isolation, then society has chosen to treat a symptom, not the root cause of the problem."

* We recognize children as human beings having their own rights and responsibilities;

* Children should have adequate access to the resources necessary for a healthy development;

* All children belong with families and need enduring relationships with adults. Children are uniquely dependent on their families for their survival, nurturing and development. This dependence implies that a child-centred approach is necessarily a family-centred approach;

* Bringing up children cannot be seen merely as a private matter, and therefore costs (financial and otherwise) of children should be shared between the family and society;

* Family/professional collaborations and partnerships are key to a child welfare system that is proactive, preventative and facilitative;

* The interdependence of social and economic development requires an integration of social and economic policies. Specifically, children should have a right to participate in the life and decision-making of society, directly or indirectly according to the child's age and development. (Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers, viii-ix).
The tragedy of Pat's death is that is is far too soon. She did so much good in her time on this Earth and while illness sometimes slowed her, she undoubtedly had more to accomplish. Those of us who knew her can be grateful for the blessing that came out of just being around Pat. Her family can be comforted knowing that she will not be forgotten; she did far more than most to make her world better than it was.

The world is a poorer place today, but Heaven is undoubtedly richer by far from Pat's being there.