Myrtle Surjik was born and raised in Regina. She attended Central Collegiate and later Balfour Technical School. After a brief career as a beauty queen (Miss Grey Cup, 1951), model and flight attendant, Myrtle married David Surjik, and together they raised four children in Regina.
Possessed of boundless energy, Myrtle combined family life with a life of service and community involvement. Running for city council, supporting the Douglas government’s initiatives on universal health care, pushing for reproductive rights and gender equality – these topics piqued her interest and received her passionate support. When she decided to return to school to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Saskatchewan (Regina Campus), she did so with commitment and determination. She graduated with distinction in 1977 and launched a new career, first as a social worker in the mental health field, and later as a professional with the Public Service Commission in human resources.
“Myrtle’s life was characterized by excellence in all she did. She was an anchor for her husband and children, a caring and wonderful friend, a passionate professional and advocate for the causes she believed in.”
This was a woman who was gifted with a razor-sharp intellect. Classmates and professors alike observed her analysis of each situation with her characteristic balance of the ideal and the practical. She was an accomplished debater and in class often took a contrarian position to inspire further discussion. The greatest fun was watching her debate gender equality in a women’s studies class. With her disarming style, and supported always by facts, statistics and logic, she took on all opponents with verve and a smile.
Fueled by a passion for education and an excellent mind, Myrtle thoroughly enjoyed her student experience and was also intensely interested in the future of education. She served on the Board of the University of Saskatchewan (1971-74) and was later the first woman to be appointed to the Board of Governors of the University of Regina.
Beyond her academic pursuits and her career, Myrtle became well known for her community activism. She chose to serve in the areas that were deeply important to her, areas she felt were not receiving the attention they deserved. The issue of women’s participation at all levels in the workforce drove her to become involved in the Regina Council of Women. She became a leader in the Voice of Women organization. A firm believer in reproductive rights, she supported the Family Planning Association. Never losing her focus on the matter of gender equity, Myrtle became part of a group of women who made representation to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada in 1970.
As a member of the Board of Governors, she was appointed to the President’s Committee to Review the Status of Women at the University of Regina. A report from the University of Regina magazine stated that “she was concerned about the lack of women in the University administration at all levels.” She was so pleased when Dr. Vianne Timmons became the first woman president of her beloved alma mater.
Mental health was Myrtle’s other passion and in 1992, she received the Canada Health and Welfare Volunteer Award, recognizing her exemplary and valuable contribution towards improving the health and social well-being of Canadians. She was always completely open about her father’s experience with schizophrenia and in the late 1980s began to dedicate herself to raising public awareness of the disease both locally and nationally. She rose to increasingly influential roles within the Schizophrenia Society, working first as the Regina president, later the Saskatchewan president and then serving on the national board.
She immersed herself in advocacy work, lobbying all levels of government to increase services and enhance research. She was a very effective fundraiser and pushed for greater public education and counselling services for families of individuals suffering from mental health challenges. Her fundraising initiatives resulted in the establishment of scholarships in the areas of social work, educational psychology and clinical psychology – all focused on understanding the illness better and providing more appropriate services to those affected by the illness. In 1996, Myrtle was recognized by the University of Regina as a Distinguished Alumnus for her outstanding work with the Schizophrenia Society.
Myrtle’s life was characterized by excellence in all she did. She was an anchor for her husband and children, a caring and wonderful friend, a passionate professional and advocate for the causes she believed in. Everything she did, she did with kindness and empathy. She will be remembered as a woman of great beauty, both inner and outer, and a woman of great warmth.
Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Regina 2008