Norma Davies ’42

Norma formally assumed her position as member of Elmwood’s board of governors in 1966. In fact, however, her involvement goes back much further in time. Norma’s mother was Cairine Wilson, who is famous as Canada’s first female senator in 1930 and, at Elmwood, as the woman who gave her name to Wilson House. As a parent at Elmwood, Mrs. Wilson preceded her daughter as a member of the school’s board of governors. She was also responsible in 1929 for rebuilding the old Keefer barn as the present Auditorium and one-time gymnasium.

The Wilsons lived just around the corner from Elmwood, and many of Norma’s older siblings attended the school before her. The youngest of a large family, she graduated from Elmwood in 1942. The war years were a period of great change with new opportunities for women in particular, and Norma was the first girl in her family to attend university.

As a woman whose experience on the board dates back to the 1940s, Norma is able to take a long view of Elmwood’s history. “Board meetings were very different before the war,” she says, “more like a tea party than a formal business meeting.” She also remembers how personally the governors took their role. “The agenda was much more relaxed. The original board members talked about everything and everyone, and they knew every student by name. Nothing was sacred.”

Norma Wilson married in 1949 and, for a time, her connection with the school weakened as she and her husband pursued a series of Air Force postings. Whenever she came back in Ottawa, however, she found herself once again representing her mother on the odd occasion. The 1950s were unsettled years. The war had brought many changes to Canadian society—and to Elmwood. The 1951 departure of Headmistress Edith Buck after a very long tenure, shook the institution. “After having Mrs. Buck in place for 30 years,” Norma remembers, “we had three headmistresses in a decade. There was instability.”

Returning to Ottawa from an overseas posting in 1966, she formally joined the board and, after a few years in Toronto (1968 to 1972), she returned to the board, eventually taking over the position of chair. “I took over from Ogden Martin, another Old Girl. She said to me, ‘It’s your turn now.’”

Elmwood was suffering some growing pains in those years. It had never been a rich school and, though it had no debts—a huge achievement—it also lacked the endowments that might have helped it expand and modernize. Even as the demand for private education grew, there was some question that the school might not survive. The board of the day was committed to making sure it did.

Norma has sat on the board for fully half of Elmwood’s century-long history. “The chair of the nominating committee calls me periodically to ask if I want to continue,” she says, “and I always say that I’m willing to step down to make room for someone younger if they need new skills and talent, but they seem to want me.”

It is easy to understand why. Norma Davies represents continuity at Elmwood. From her school days in the 1940s to 2008, when she was one of the board members invited to a parent’s house to meet a new prospective head, Cheryl Boughton, she has known, studied under or worked with every headmistress from Mrs. Buck to Mrs. Boughton. Her mother served on the board, and her children and grandchildren attended as students. That is four-generation connection between past and present that the school honours, appreciates and needs.

Thank you, Norma Davies, for everything you have done and contributed to Elmwood in a long history of commitment and dedication.

Return to The Elmwood Difference