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Saturday December 3, 2016

KAY SIGURJONSSON
1933-2016


On November 30, at Toronto Western Hospital, after a remarkably full and productive life despite the chronic lung disease that has now taken her from us.
Kay grew up in small-town Manitoba, the eldest of five children of J. E. 'Eddy' and Clara Sigurjonsson. Predeceased by her sister, Tanis; and brother, John; she leaves two sisters, Enid Robinson and Pat Rogers; and several nieces and nephews and their families.
After undergraduate work on scholarship at United College in Winnipeg, Kay obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Honours English) and a Bachelor of Paedagogy from the University of Manitoba, winning Gold Medals in both programs. She taught high school in Manitoba, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. Her most memorable teaching years were in Quebec City, which she often mentioned with great fondness; and at United College, where she joined a number of colleagues in resigning over a landmark case involving academic freedom.
Kay moved to Toronto in 1960 to take up a graduate fellowship at Trinity College; she studied under Northrop Frye. Her consistent brilliance as student and teacher clearly suggested an academic career. Kay, however, had other ideas. After a stint at the University of Toronto Press, she found a natural niche with the Federation of Women Teachers' Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) where she rose to Associate Executive Director editing the Federation's publications, supervising the work of the collective bargaining department, and coordinating the Federation's affirmative action programs aimed at bringing more women into decision-making positions in school systems. Both the time and the setting were right: the '60s saw a resurgence of feminism to which the FWTAO lent its resources, enabling people like Kay to be influential beyond the organization.
Among her many professional associations, Kay was a 'founding mother' of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. She served as national President of the Canadian Association in Support of Native Peoples, on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and as a member of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee to increase the pool of women and racial minorities for appointment to the Ontario Bench. In all of these initiatives Kay's complete grasp of the issues, her keen political awareness and articulate presence in meeting rooms and on public platforms made her a formidable advocate, and earned her a permanent place in the history of the women's movement in Canada.
Kay holds an honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Western Ontario, is a Fellow of the Ontario Teachers' Federation, and was named a Woman of Distinction by the YWCA. Always open to new experiences, Kay moonlighted for three seasons as co-host on CBC TV's public affairs program 'Weekend'. During a sabbatical from the FWTAO, she earned a Master's degree from the London School of Economics.
Kay's travel tastes were eclectic: she visited all seven continents, including places long before they became popular destinations; she equally enjoyed the drive between Toronto and Winnipeg, and an unforgettable trip to Newfoundland packed sardine-like with friends in a borrowed Hillman prone to flat tires.
Kay refused to accept the limitations imposed by declining health, and remained eager to take in a gallery opening, new play, or dinner at a favourite restaurant. Both inspired and challenged by her fierce independence, her friends were relieved that at least Blue Jays games were available on TV.
Donations in Kay's memory may be made to the Canadian Women's Foundation at 416-365-1444, www.canadianwomen.org, or to Doctors Without Borders at 1-800-982-7903, www.doctorswithoutborders.org.
Kay and her family want to thank the Intensive Care doctors and nurses at Toronto Western for their constant attention, kindness and concern during this past difficult week.
Memorial Celebration at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Baillie Court, at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 11, 2016. Friends and former colleagues are invited.

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