Phyllis Kearney Scott 1940-
CFUW President 1994-1996
“Responsibility, responsiveness and resourcefulness: we all have these qualities. They will carry us through. . . .”
Phyllis Diane Kearney Scott, daughter of an RCMP father and VON mother, Lillian Goodall Kearney, from birth breathed the philosophy of community and the belief in creating a better life for everyone. From them she also learned the RCMP and VON values – honesty, compassion, respect, professionalism, and accountability. Her public schooling furthered these ideas as Ottawa’s Lisgar Collegiate stressed the importance of community, both nationally and internationally. An avid sportswoman, Phyllis spent her childhood summers at the family cottage in New Brunswick. All her life, her values have grounded her, just as her irrepressible sense of humour has kept her and others going when things got tough.
Phyllis enrolled in Physical Education at UBC, earning her BPE in physical education and history. She asserts: “Education opens up our minds and enables us to see the world from different perspectives beyond our own circle.” Teaching public school from Manitoba to Minnesota, and California to North Vancouver, she learned that people everywhere have similar dreams and similar problems, especially women and children. This public awareness became acutely personal when, with her two-year old son in tow, she left a marriage that wasn’t working, and drove her little VW from Calgary to North Vancouver to find solace and support with her parents. Phyllis enrolled in UBC study for her Diploma in Special Education. She subsequently worked full time, teaching social studies and math to children with learning and behavioural problems in the North Vancouver school system. She also found time to coach basketball and tennis. Notwithstanding her demanding workload, Phyllis still found time to laugh and to play, and she met, and in 1975 married, a marine engineer, Stan Scott.
Her keen interest in women’s rights and women’s issues with their multilayered trials and tribulations developed further. CFUW’s purpose struck a chord with Phyllis. She had been active in the organization since 1978 when she joined CFUW West Vancouver, the club that made her a Life Member in 2012. She co-founded CFUW North Vancouver in 1980 and over the next decade became increasingly committed to CFUW’s goals, values, and vision. In 1991, following her son’s university enrolment, her elderly mother’s death, and her own early retirement, CFUW became her main focus.
Phyllis served as a member of the National Board from 1985 to 2002 holding the positions of Education Chair, VP/RD BC, Chair of Strategic Planning, National President, and CIR. In these capacities she presented many workshops at CFUW AGMs and in the public sphere.
Why, one might ask, did Phyllis run for the presidency of CFUW? Her answer: “I saw the unique opportunity it offered me to further my lifelong beliefs and I had connected with CFUW goals since first I learned of them.” A lifelong educator, she logically adopted as her 1994 biennium theme: “Access to Education – Meeting the Challenge”. Education, for her was inclusive of all levels and types of education from day care to university. Her initial presidential address recognized with pride that the beginning of her term marked the 75th anniversary of CFUW: “We have been leaders for 75 years in practically all aspects of Canadian life. Much of what we resolved at each AGM has become part of the Canadian Fabric.”
As President, Phyllis was proactive in implementing policies and actions on issues of national import and encouraged all clubs to be equally proactive on resolutions. During her term, she asserts, relations with the Federal Government were excellent and encouraging, almost supportive and collaborative . . . with Ministers, Deputy Ministers and staff often seeking the opinion of CFUW . . . on their draft legislation regarding divorce, child support, and taxation of women’s benefits the splitting of federal pension benefits on the dissolution of marriage.” Furthermore, Phyllis adds: “Government listened. Through various means we hoped we made a difference federally – on women’s health, pensions, human rights, the unity question, social transfer cuts, children in poverty, and employment equity and more.” CFUW was also consulted regarding the important women’s and human rights issue of sex tourism. Following the 2006 Stockholm Declaration regarding child exploitation, Phyllis became a member of the Federal Government’s National Steering Committee on Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Youth, chaired by Dr. Hedy Fry, MP.
It has been said that the year 1994 is synonymous with austerity; CFUW did not escape unscathed. Phyllis was the last President with the large Board of 28 members plus three Constitution and By-Laws Committee members. The Winnipeg 1994 AGM directed her Board to reduce future Boards to 14 members. The proposed new Constitution was passed by CFUW members at the 1995 AGM in St. Catharines.
Austerity measures affected almost all facets of CFUW operations. Under Phyllis' leadership (at a time when e-mail was still in its infancy), there emerged such measures as communications with the Board Executive Committee via phone meetings provided free, thanks to the Vancouver branch of Status of Women Canada. A new publication, The Communicator, launched in the spring of 1994 and provided clubs with multiple copies of national information. Newly adopted administrative protocol had the AGM and Board meeting minutes accompanied by a one-page action sheet recording who was responsible for each specified task.
Despite austerity measures, Phyllis managed to visit clubs in every province from St John’s to Vancouver Island. In 1995, at a time between Executive Directors she conducted the national AGM with CFUW St. Catharines as host club. She started the process to obtain official consultative status for CFUW with the Economic and Social Council of the UN that was later granted. She participated in the Canadian Government’s annual national Human Rights meetings prior to the Government’s attending the UN Human Rights Council Meetings in Geneva. With five other women she addressed the topic of gun control on national television, emphasizing its immediate and on-going necessity. Always a believer in collaboration, on behalf of CFUW Phyllis worked closely with such other groups as: Status of Women Canada, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), the Business & Professional Women, Soroptimists, IFUW, and ZONTA, (including women involved with Project Five-0), Elizabeth Fry, and, particularly, the United Nations.
Phyllis’ involvement with IFUW began well before she became CFUW President and continued long after. She led a Literacy workshop with Audrey Thomas of CFUW Victoria at the 1989 meeting in Helsinki and attended the 1992 meeting in Palo Alto, California. As National President, she led the CFUW delegation at Yokohama, Japan. Post-presidency, she co-chaired/chaired the IFUW Way Forward network from 1998 to 2004, led the IFUW delegation to the UN Habitat meeting in Vancouver in 2006, and attended a number of UNCSW sessions. During a time of crisis, austerity and restructuring, she was twice elected VP IFUW: 2004-2007 and 2007-2010.
In an interview in 2012, Phyllis said: “CFUW, 16 years after my presidency, to me embodies the concept that we CAN, individually and collectively, make a difference.” and she added, “Being involved with IFUW broadened my concept of nationalities and culture and how they worked together, beside each other and for each other and for peace, the world over.” Having attended most of the UNCSW sessions from 1997 to 2009, originally as CFUW CIR and subsequently as an IFUW representative, Phyllis believes that women can and must continue to work collectively for the good of all women and children in the world. Speaking of CFUW, she says, “As President, part of the job is to encourage others and I believe that mentoring is one of the President’s roles. I see us finding ways to use our incredible potential by steering future leaders into positions that are appropriate for them at a particular time in their lives. Our elected leaders should not emerge from an abyss.”
Phyllis has many favourite remembrances of her CFUW/IFUW experiences. They include being a participant in the annual meeting of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO in Yellowknife with representatives from five other UNESCO circumpolar countries; standing with other CSW attendees in front of the UN with signs printed in 27 languages saying “Women Say No to War” just days before the Coalition of the Willing declared war on Iraq in March 2003, and thirdly representing the IFUW President at the Irish Federation’s AGM (2008) where she met one of the few women to sign the Peace Accord of 1998. On the lighter side, such reminiscences include being presented with the humorous “Order of Canada, EH!” award at the St. Catharines AGM (1995) by their banquet entertainment group and of joining the Irish Ceilidh Group at 1996 St John’s, NL, 1996, “when Linda Souter (Past President) and I sang along as the spirit, the fun, and the joy which the Ceilidh represents flowed outward to CFUW as a great group of spirited women with vision.”
CFUW ideals inform her life. She remains involved in her lifelong interest in public education in all its forms, and in community health and development as member and Chair of the West Vancouver Community Services Advisory Commission. She has been a Girl Scout leader and hospital volunteer in Minnesota, a Boy Scout leader in North Vancouver, and a member of the North Shore Community Housing Advocacy Committee. She is a recipient of the West Vancouver Baha’i Unity in Diversity Award for her human rights advocacy and is a former executive member of the Canadian International Council. Integral to Phyllis are her lifelong love of family – especially her teen-age granddaughters – and her sense of humour and love of animals “including the wildlife in my backyard from bears to coyotes to raccoons.”
As a final note, members recall her spunk and spirit through a memory shared by many CFUW members who attended AGMs (or other lengthy meetings) at which she was present. Ever a believer in the need of the body to become invigorated by movement and laughter, Phyllis, dressed as a Carol Burnett-type scrubwoman, complete with bucket and mop, would suddenly appear and lead the assembled AGM meeting in stretching to “Women Hold Up Half the World.” This brief interval was uplifting to all present, got out the kinks, relaxed the tensions and calmed nerves, helped brains think, and brought members together. Her humour, combined with her solid values, admirable competence, and strong leadership skills were hallmarks of her presidency as well as her other work with CFUW and IFUW.
Phyllis Kearney Scott
Scott, Phyllis, Interviews by Kim Collett, CFUW North Vancouver and West Vancouver. 2013 and 2016. TS.