Gretta Chambers, McGill’s first female Chancellor and a key Quebec figure

Gretta Chambers’ roots at McGill were deep and long, as was her love for the University where she served as the first female Chancellor from 1991 to 1999.
She received her BA in Political Science in 1947 at a time when few women pursued degrees. And in 2001, McGill awarded her with an honorary doctorate.

After she passed away in 2017 at the age of 90, Board of Governors Chair Ram Panda reflected on her remarkable contribution to the University: “Gretta made so many important contributions to McGill that it is impossible to keep track of them all. She worked passionately to bring various community members together and was a perpetual ambassador for the University, which she served with remarkable dedication and distinction.”

Chambers served in a host of public service roles throughout her career, including serving as a member of the Board of Governors, Governor Emerita, and a member of the Conseil de la magistrature du Quebec.

In 1993, Chambers was made an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec, and was named to the Order of Canada the following year. In 2000, she was promoted to Companion. She was inducted into the Academy of Great Montrealers in 1995 and received various other honours including the Mérite Philanthropique from the Quebec Chamber of Commerce (2000) and the Friend of Education Award from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (2001).

Like her brother, world-renowned McGill philosophy professor Charles Taylor, Chambers was a strong proponent of human rights and was involved in the Montreal Consortium for Human Rights Advocacy Training at McGill from its inception in 1991. As she told the CBC in 2012, “You can take everything away from a person; his or her looks, health, friends. You cannot take away what they know. They have that forever.”

In recognition of Chambers’ longstanding service to McGill, the McGill Alumni Association presents its annual Chancellor Gretta Chambers Student Leadership Award to “one or more students who have demonstrated leadership qualities while contributing in a volunteer capacity to the advancement of the McGill Alumni Association, McGill or the community.”