Roberta Moore Brooks 1939-
CFUW President 2000-2002
“In an era when the voices that speak for women are struggling and fading out, CFUW continues to speak out and be heard.
We owe this continued voice to the fact that we are one of the very few women’s organizations that is not funded by
Roberta Brooks, the president who led CFUW into the new millennium, proved to be an energetic trailblazer for the organization. Throughout her time in office, she reinforced a central CFUW platform: to promote and support education for girls and women, both at home and abroad. This was the foundation upon which she centered her efforts.
Growing up in small Ontario communities, Roberta Ann Moore could hardly have imagined that one day she would become a player on the international stage. “I never saw myself doing anything and I didn’t know what I wanted to do“, she muses. She thought she knew what she did not want to be: a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary; as it happened, her work embraced two of those three.
At the end of Grade 13, Roberta stayed on in school in order to take a commercial course and to continue her studies toward becoming an Associate of the Royal Conservatory (ARCT) in piano performance. ARCT diplomas for performers and teachers are the highest academic standings awarded by the Royal Conservatory of Music. When a friend told Roberta about a Secretarial Science program offered at the University of Western Ontario, she was intrigued. “I grew up knowing that I was to go to university,” she says. “There was never any thought that I would do anything else.” She could already type, take shorthand, keep books, and manage an office, but now she would be able to take academic subjects to whet her agile mind. Roberta describes her time at university as “a time of awakening.” She was astounded at how well she did at her studies. She also put her musical skills to good use accompanying the university’s mixed choir at rehearsals and concerts for a year.
Upon graduating with a BA in Secretarial Science from Western in 1960, Roberta had an immediate job offer from her former high school principal in Mississauga. Due to a teacher shortage in Ontario, the Ministry of Education was prepared to substitute a summer school program for a year’s study at the Ontario College of Education. Roberta completed the summer school session and at the age of 21 began teaching Special Commercial. She married in 1965 and continued to teach until her daughter was born in 1972. Around the time of her daughter’s birth, Roberta read about a CFUW club meeting in a local newspaper prompting her to join CFUW Mississauga where she was a member until her family relocated to Oakville, whereupon she joined the Oakville club.
Like many members, Roberta’s active involvement with CFUW was contingent upon competing interests and priorities in her life. It was not long before her executive potential was noticed, and she accepted the position of Membership Secretary with CFUW Oakville for two years. She then entered the period of her life when she considered herself to be a “professional volunteer.” She volunteered at her daughter’s school, St Mildred’s-Lightbourn, and became an active member of the women’s committee of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she provided piano accompaniment for the children’s choir at her church. It was not until 1980 that she returned to CFUW Oakville’s Executive becoming Vice-President, and then, in 1981, club President.
Next door to Oakville, Betty Tugman was President of CFUW Mississauga (1980-1981). Betty approached the five CFUW clubs in the area with the notion of staging “gatherings” three times a year. These gatherings would be held on Saturday mornings at the Toronto clubhouse and would provide workshops that were relevant to what was being done by these clubs. As a result of these gatherings, the Ontario Council, which until this time had no committee structure, decided to establish committees to look at issues of concern. Roberta soon found herself co-chair of the Legislation Committee – her first position with the Ontario Council and her first step towards national and international involvement.
During the CFUW presidency of Linda Souter (1985-1988), Roberta took on the position of National Recording Secretary. She was then encouraged by Betty Tugman (always a mentor and supporter) to run for the position of VP Ontario. Roberta was asked to chair the national Forward Planning Committee established under President Tammy Irwin (1988-1990). By 1990 Roberta needed a break so she ended her formal association with the Ontario Council at which point the Oakville club made her an Honorary Life Member.
It was another nine years before Roberta re-entered CFUW executive circles. After the Calgary AGM in 1999, even though she was facing the first of two knee surgeries, Roberta was persuaded to run for the position of CFUW President. It was not a position to which she had aspired. “I never thought about being President and it never occurred to me,” she reflects. Supported by Rose Beatty, Phyllis Scott, Ann Power, and others, Roberta began her presidency in 2000.
It was a busy and exciting time. At the national level, CFUW was dealing with challenging resolutions concerning the Kyoto Protocol, health, genetically modified organisms, the use of non-essential (cosmetic) pesticides, national water resources, human trafficking, and the long-gun registry. On the international level, Canada was hosting the IFUW Triennial Conference in Ottawa in 2001.
Roberta was familiar with IFUW conference procedures because she had served as minutes secretary at the Yokohama (1995) and Graz (1998) Triennials. Her greatest challenge was to ensure that the Ottawa IFUW Triennial conference was a financial success. CFUW set a goal to raise $100 000 to make it possible for women from developing countries to attend. This funding was secured from CIDA and when only $80 000 was used, CFUW astonished the Canadian Government by returning the remainder. The Ottawa Triennial attracted an attendance of more than 900 people and was considered by many as the most successful IFUW conference to date.
Perhaps it was a result of the support she herself had received, or her belief in providing opportunities for others to enhance their skills, that helped make Roberta that successful CFUW President that she was. Each year during her tenure as President, Roberta spent three or four days on Parliament Hill meeting with various federal Ministers to discuss the issues of the day. The Executive Director of CFUW, and the proposers of the Resolutions being actioned accompanied her. Roberta usually took a back seat in the discussions saying: “I always thought of myself as a generalist not a specialist, so I let the other two do the talking during these sessions because they knew more about it than I did.” At national AGMs, Roberta also began the practice (used by IFUW) of having Vice-Presidents chair some of the sessions to raise their profiles and to give the president a break.
Roberta strove to make improvements to CFUW. She believed that communication was important, and visited every province more than once, and attended each Provincial Council. She always reminded members of CFUW’s roots, its purpose in terms of education by giving women opportunities to advance themselves, its support for women through scholarships, and its continuing involvement in IFUW. She oversaw the setting up of a Task Force to review the Fellowship Program and worked to enhance communication among Fellowships, the Charitable Trust, and the National Board. She also initiated having one of the Fellowship winners as guest speaker at the Charitable Trust breakfasts at AGM’s which served as both a fundraiser and a means to raise the Charitable Trust’s profile within the organization.
Roberta believed in treating people fairly. She worked closely with the staff at National Office and when she realized that the offices they worked in were windowless, she saw that this deficiency was corrected. She also ensured that executive members received more financial support to attend Board meetings: “It you don’t put your money where your mouth is then you don’t value what we are doing.”
Roberta’s influence on CFUW and IFUW did not end with her presidency. Under the Presidencies of Rose Beatty and Ardith Toogood, she served four years as CFUW Director of Finance. She hired a financial advisor to look into the Federation’s investments and to rationalize its dealings with the currency exchange between Canada and Switzerland, the location of IFUW headquarters. She chaired the Charitable Trust and oversaw arrangements for the Elizabeth Massey Award – a new scholarship funded by the Massey family for post-graduate work in the creative arts. “It was an interesting and buoyant time,” she says, and “we got our membership up to 10 000!”
Since the mid-1990s Roberta has continued to be a great supporter of IFUW. She served as Assistant Treasurer for several years. She says that her attendance at a variety of IFUW Triennials allowed her to gain an appreciation “of what people face in other countries and what environments they are living and working in”. As she sees it, IFUW is remarkable because of the fact that women come together from all over the world, and the issues that affect women in Canada are those that affect women everywhere, and vice-versa. “IFUW is the only women’s organization in the world involved in higher education. And, you cannot get higher education if you live in poverty or haven’t got enough to eat. Our involvement with IFUW is about what we can do for them.” Many of the IFUW Resolutions that are passed are important to women from developing countries because they strengthen the women’s position when approaching their governments for support. “My work in IFUW is my way of helping women globally,” Roberta affirms, “and I think there is some cachet to be able to say that I belong to an organization that stretches around the world.”
One of Roberta’s fondest memories occurred in Richmond, BC, in 2002 when she was presented with a custom-made brooch by the Board and RDs at the end of her two-year term. She was touched for “they must have appreciated what I did.” For some time Roberta had espoused the idea of presenting a token of appreciation at the end of each president’s term – a gesture that was later adopted. In the words of Betty Tugman: “Roberta proved to be a steady leader who was always fair-minded and able to embrace a variety of issues who left the organization in good working order.” Roberta says: “As far as I am concerned, it is the women that I have met and the friendships that I have made all across the country that I cherish, and my travels gave me a great appreciation of the diversity of our country.”
Brooks, Roberta. Telephone interview by Gail Crawford. 2013. TS.
—. “President’s Address.” CFUW AGM. Richmond, British Columbia 15 Aug. 2002. Unpublished TS.