University of Manitoba - University Governance - Dame Ruth Nita Barrow, LL.D., June 1, 1988
Dame Ruth Nita Barrow, LL.D., June 1, 1988
Dame Ruth Nita Barrow
D.P.H., D.N.E. (Tor), D.S.T. (Edin), B.Sc.N. (Col), F.R.C.N.

I have the honor to present Dame Ruth Nita Barrow, D.P.H., D.N.E. (Tor), D.S.T. (Edin), B.Sc.N. (Col), F.R.C.N.

Dame Nita Barrow was born in Barbados. A nurse and midwife, she graduated from the Barbados General Hospital and the Midwifery School in Port of Spain, Trinidad. A Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship in Public Health brought her to the University of Toronto where she was greatly influenced by Dr. Kathleen Russell, a pioneer in nursing education, who encouraged cross cultural enterprises. These were to have a great impact on Nita Barrow's career.

She furthered her education at the University of Edinburgh and Columbia University in New York where she completed a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree in 1953-55. She returned to the Caribbean, this time in Jamaica, where she was active in education and service. In 1956-62, she was appointed as Principal Nursing Officer for Jamaica. In this capacity, she extended her influence on curricula in 16 Caribbean countries and in the West Indies School of Public Health. She served also as nursing advisor to the Pan American Health Organization in the Commonwealth Caribbean, improving health care and education through workshops, seminars and conferences that covered a wide variety of health concerns, among them research methodology in education, family and health care planning.

In Jamaica, she became involved in the World Movement of the Y.W.C.A. She served two successive terms in that movement until 1983 when she was honored as the first West Indian to hold the president's office. During the years 1975-80, she became first Associate Director and then Director of the World Council of Churches, retiring in 1981 from that position. These experiences presented her with untold opportunities for studying various approaches to health while she promoted the Council's activities, attending to the health care and nutrition of the people of Africa, India and the Arab world.

Two signal honours were accorded her for her outstanding contributions. She was made Dame Nita Barrow by Queen Elizabeth II with the Barbadian title of St. Andrew attached to it. She was also made a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in England. She has received many honorary degrees including Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Science, Doctor of Human Letters and most recently received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Windsor.

Dame Nita Barrow recognized the importance of educating adults and was elected President of the International Council of Adult Education in 1975 and again in 1986. Her vital interest in health, adult education, women's affairs and religion has made her sought after as a resource person in numerous international activities. She was a member of the first team that visited the People's Republic of China under the China Cooperative Programme of the International Council on Adult Education in 1981. More recently, she was appointed by the United Nations to convene the Non-Governmental Organization Forum for the Women's Decade held in Nairobi in July 1985. It required coordinating the efforts of separate planning committees located in Nairobi, Geneva, Vienna and New York and 13,000 delegates. From the victory of that Conference, she carried away an optimism and a belief in pragmatic personal negotiation that was later to affect her work in the United Nations. A strong opponent of apartheid her concern as a member of the Commonwealth Apartheid Committee is reflected in her statement, "If we don't do something about it, we will never have this moment in history again." She has focussed her tremendous efforts and skills in this endeavour to this day.

She has served the World Health Organization well as a continuing consultant and also as Advisor to Pan American Health Organization she has kept "Health for All by the Year 2000" in the forefront, extolling the benefits of primary health care. She is a strong proponent of people understanding and controlling their own health. The World Health Organization in Geneva asked her to chair the 1988 Technical Discussions at the World Health Assembly which has just completed its sessions. These discussions addressed the topic, A Decade after Alma Ata: Where do we go From Here?

Dame Nita Barrow grew up in a politically active family. Her recently deceased but revered brother, Erroll Walton Barrow, was Prime Minister of Barbados. He was a man of great human caring who said of his family, "In Jamaica, I am Nita Barrow's brother, in St. Croix, Jam Sybil Barrow's brother, in St. Vincent, I am Ena Comma's brother, only in Barbados am I the Prime Minister.” Politics was the life-blood of the family. It was thus a move that did not surprise anyone as she assumed the appointment as Ambassador Permanent Representative of the Barbados to the United Nations in 1985.

Dame Nita Barrow has had a distinguished career as an international public health planner from Alaska to Africa. She has always had a soft spot in her heart for Canada like an astonishing number of UN diplomats who were at least partly Canadian educated. We had the privilege of having Dame Nita Barrow here in 1976 on a six university Primary Health Care Team. We hope our weather in May this year is appreciated more than the March blizzard she experienced in 1976.

Our colleague continues to distinguish herself in matters of health, education, women's affairs and religion. She has brought imagination, creativity, organizational ability, commitment and caring for the human condition to her work. At the same time, she has served not only her profession of nursing nobly, but health care generally, making the world a better, healthier place to live.

Mr. Chancellor, it is my privilege to ask, in the name of the Senate of The University of Manitoba, that you confer on Dame Nita Barrow, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.