Dr. Alexa McDonough, OC, ONS was a stand-out leader, feminist and cherished member of the Mount Saint Vincent University family. To summarize her legacy in one paragraph is impossible; what follows only begins to describe some of Alexa’s many accomplishments. Though many of us came to know her through her political work, she was a social worker, reporter, and teacher. She fought for worker health and safety improvements, human rights protections and pay equity, and has been a champion of international development and peace advocacy. Ramona Lumpkin, CM, PhD, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor, reflected on Alexa’s legacy and accomplishments, which is available on our website.
In 2013, MSVU’s Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice was re-named the Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice (or AMI) through the fundraising efforts of a group of labour union representatives. The institute’s mission reflects what Alexa spent her career fighting for: equity and improved lives across communities through feminist initiatives, activism and a dedication to social justice.
Elegy for Alexa Ann (Shaw) McDonough
A Kindergarten is what a proper
Legislature is, where the Treasury
Is Sharing. How else do humans prosper
If not by Charity beyond measure?
To parcel out fairly peanut butter
Cookies, sluiced down by lemonade, and teach
That Policy is Rhyme—never stuttered—
And Law is verses versus what pirates preach,
So the bee may hop-scotch, dipsy-doodle,
And songbird serenade (like Portia White),
And poutine mash well with apple strudel,
And finger paints mirror stained-glass delights….
So did you model such Wisdom, Beauty,
O Miss Shaw, sprightly and winsome, laughing
In your lessons, the chalked-letter duties
Lightning cross blackboards, sea chanteys puffing
From a record player, or flared spirituals
Hymning out of sing-song mouths and cherry
Or ebon cheeks? Pure, Mother Goose minstrels—
Our alphabets sloppy, dictionaries
With crayon-crazed pages half-torn-out—
We well-versed citizens are, who do trust
That Magic is possible when we vote,
And abracadabra rhymes with must.
O my teacher, an essential element
Of the Superb, so you were—in plaid skirt,
Working daily such endless astonishments:
Crafts to soothe bruised egos, kiss-salves for hurts;
So intrinsically sensitive, or stern—
To cure misdeeds with sharp look or a hug,
As you could, so we civil rites would learn
And our human rights never would we shrug.
You always said I was a rascal boy
In that pre-school legislature of yarns,
Tall tales, short naps, where ideas were toys—
Pixie-dust dreams, such Nonsense that discerns
Better ways of thinking, being, doing,
While Charity ushers Euphoria.
(What’s a rainbow save all colours hewing
To-and-from gilt phantasmagoria?)
O my teacher, the first politico
To breathe my Poetry into Hansard,
News of your passing stirs my vertigo—
Til tear-cracked eyes and tear-wracked voice (censored
No more), now weep for you—liberator
Of gulag-tortured man or downpressed mom—
Opponent of each troop-backed dictator;
Sister to each feminist from-the-womb!
O my teacher, to the assembly born—
The whole people’s parliamentarian—
You took my mom and me boating one morn
On waters smooth, egalitarian.
After, as the sun washed its beams in froth—
And you and my mom talked of schoolbook things—
I spooned clam-chowder’s buttered broth,
And chewed cookies, slurped juice, and soared on swings.
That was one day distinct from thousands since—
One moment of momentous radiance!
The lesson taught? O Joy is Insolence
Upsetting all vile, petty governments.
The House of Commons’ most uncommon Sense—
Intransigent, insurgent Eloquence—
O my teacher (Grammar all future-tense)—
You taught—I witnessed—deathless Magnificence.
–George Elliott Clarke