FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Jean Leahy, a beloved champion for farming women and senior citizens in the Peace region, was awarded posthumously with Fort St. John’s Freedom of the City award on Tuesday evening in front of a large group of friends and family at city hall. Her family accepted the award on her behalf.
Leahy was described by her friends as a strong advocate for the problems facing women, agriculture and, later, senior citizens in Fort St. John.
“She was always a driving force of making sure that issues that faced women were put front and foremost,” Margaret Little, a friend of Leahy’s, said during the presentation ceremony.
Leahy had a hand in several key institutions of the city, including the North Peace Leisure Pool and Heritage Manors I and II as a member of the Peace River Regional District board and president and founder of Save our Northern Seniors (SONS).
Not only did she fight for changes and solutions herself, but she relentlessly encouraged others to do the same.
“Jean was always the person that was standing beside us saying, ‘how about you do that?’” Little said. “She was always there supporting us, making sure that we were out and were recognized as well—not her, the rest of us,” she continued.
Leahy also advocated on a national level for issues facing farming women as women’s president of the National Farmers Union from 1975 to 1979. She was active in the organization for 25 years.
As part of this organization, she fought for matrimonial property and pension rights legislation for women— or the right for women to have the same property ownership rights as their husbands and to contribute to the Canada Pension Plan.
Jim Collins, another friend who stood up to speak about Leahy’s contribution to the community and the country at the ceremony, painted a picture of what Fort St. John looked like in the 1980s while Leahy was working to make an impact in the town.
“I’m old enough that I do remember Jean in the early days, in the tough times in the eighties. Jean was a strong advocate for the problems that agriculture was facing in those days,” he said. “This town suffered a lot. But Jean, through the National Farmers Union, pushed, shoved, and did her best to try and help.”
Philosophically, Collins said, he and Leahy did not always agree. “I was more conservative,” he said, “But we still got along. We had similar ideas on how to try and help.”
Leahy was a woman committed to making the lives of those in her community better through advocacy, whether that community was her city or her nation, and encouraging others to do the same.
The Freedom of the City is the highest honour that Fort St. John’s mayor and council award. It is given to an individual or group that has made significant improvement to city life and culture, is recognized by peers either inside the city, nationally or internationally, and has brought recognition to the city through their achievements.