80-year-old PhD recipient writes another book

The idea to become the first PhD recipient in the department of communication and culture had never occurred to Verna Reid, who was enjoying her retirement party with good family and friends at age 69. For a woman who passionately devoted her career to the literature and visual arts for more than 35 years, it was only natural she’d want to pursue painting, her favourite pastime.

Yet Reid’s interests took a different path for the next six years. Taking the advice of her associate dean, also at the retirement party, Reid decided she would get an interdisciplinary PhD at the University of Calgary.

“I got my PhD because I had something to say,” said Reid, now 80. “I didn’t do it as a career move.”

After investigating the autobiographies of four leading Canadian artists and writers at the U of C, Reid earned her PhD in 2003. She was 75.

Her new book Women Between is based on her doctoral thesis about Sharon Butala, Aganetha Dyck, Mary Meigs and Mary Pratt– the four Canadian women she studied. Within her published work, Reid discusses similarities in these women’s lives as well as her own. She describes mother-daughter relationships, body image and judgments on appearance. She also redefines the concept of aging and explains how work shapes a woman’s self-image.

“I noticed there were [female] students in the 1990s coming back to college, university and the Alberta College of Art and Design after they raised their kids,” said Reid. “Prominent writers and female artists in Canada were performing well into their later years. It was luck that brought these four women on my doorstep in Calgary.”

Reid has taught in the liberal arts program at ACAD since 1971. After retirement, she became a lecturer emeritus. She also published several critical articles on both literature and visual arts and was on the board of directors of the Alberta Foundation of the Literary Arts and the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation. In 1993, she received the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Arts and Culture.

Reid credits her mother for her passion for learning because she strongly promoted education.

“I love learning and I love art,” said Reid. “My mother had a great love of learning. She’d buy second-hand books during the Depression by the boxful and bring them home for me.”

Her three children have also achieved academic success. Her son John is currently the regional director of the Prarie Canadian Music Centre. Her two daughters, Lois and Susan, are also leading professionals.

Reid said she will always have a hunger for knowledge, even if her future plans are non-academic.

“You don’t always do scholarly work in interest of career,” said Reid. “You sometimes do it as an interest of knowledge.”

Reid said she doesn’t see herself publishing another book like the one she just launched. Instead, she will be enjoying the simple pleasures of life, singing and painting in her spare time.

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