Royal Roads prof. funds bursary in her mother’s name

Mother Wilma Colford and daughter Mary Bernard formally dressed, standing outside on a summers day.
Close up of mother Wilma Colford and Daughter Mary Bernard standing in front of a hutch at a family event.

In the mines near the small New Brunswick town where they lived, Mary Bernard’s father was a hoist man. It was Allen Colford’s job to winch the miners down into the Earth’s depths at the beginning of each day, then bring them up safely again at shift’s end.

His wife, Wilma, worked as an early-grades teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and always did her best to lift people up. When Allen died young, Wilma became a single mother to their five children.

In her memory, Bernard hopes to follow in her mother’s tradition of lifting others up.

Bernard is a professor in Royal Roads University’s College of Interdisciplinary Studies and head of the Doctor of Social Sciences program, which she was instrumental in developing. Since 2018, she has been funding, through a payroll deduction, the university’s Wilma Colford Bursary, which goes to an RRU degree program student who is a single parent with financial needs. The fifth such bursary will be awarded in November.

Asked about the genesis of the award, Bernard says, “I wanted to honour her with something and it only took a moment to realize it should be in education.

“She was a great believer in education,” she says of her mom, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 73. “She talked openly about the value of education. There was no question, for example, about me going to university, it was just a question of where.”

“Where” for Bernard included the University of New Brunswick, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Sociology; and York University, where she earned both a Master of Arts in Environmental Studies and a PhD in Sociology.

And she’s clear, it all comes down to her mom.

“The fact that I was able to go to university, it really was because of her, without a question. It’s not that she pressured me, it’s just that she brought me up in an environment that this is what you do in order to be responsible for yourself.”

That’s exactly what bursary recipients are doing, Bernard says, often facing hardship and certainly facing challenges that come with pursuing a degree while raising children alone. The $1,000 makes a difference — it might help pay for books, go towards tuition, or sometimes helps with child care or transportation costs.

For Bernard, her siblings, children and grandchildren, knowing the help that’s being handed out in Colford’s name is gratifying.

“I was just over the moon,” Bernard says. “It was very satisfying to me personally in remembering my mom. The cause itself is very important to me, supporting single parents. So being able to marry those two things meant a lot to me.”

And she says she hopes reading this story will encourage other faculty to consider finding an area that’s close to their hearts and launching their own bursaries, noting the university’s Advancement office can help them set up monthly deductions.

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