B.C.’s provincial health officer is being recognized with an honorary degree from Royal Roads University for her work leading the province’s pandemic response.
Dr. Bonnie Henry will receive the honorary doctor of laws degree during Royal Roads’ fall convocation ceremonies, to be held online on Nov. 6.
The honour recognizes Henry for providing British Columbians with the information they need to stay safe and adapt to life in a pandemic, and for trusting the public to make informed decisions rather than focusing on enforcement and punitive measures, said Royal Roads president Philip Steenkamp.
“She has walked that real fine line between offering guidance — good guidance — and sometimes really focused guidance, but trusting us to regulate ourselves. And I think it’s been a remarkable balancing act,” Steenkamp said.
Her leadership style and signature catchphrase — “be kind, be calm, be safe” — has soothed British Columbians in a time of turmoil, he said, and her ability to clearly communicate science-based guidelines with sensitivity and compassion has spared the province from a higher death toll and more serious restrictions seen elsewhere.
Steenkamp said it’s fitting to honour the doctor who has guided British Columbians through a new normal at the university’s first virtual convocation ceremony.
The university’s awards and honours committee canvases faculty, staff and students to identify an individual who inspires others with the courage to transform the world. Many in the university community, including Steenkamp, thought Henry was the obvious choice.
“There was a general kind of groundswell of support, which was fantastic,” he said.
Henry said in a statement she is humbled to receive the honorary degree.
“The power of community; supporting each other through adversity, working together with a common purpose, and inspiring to do and be better. This is what has given us the resilience to see this pandemic through. This same sense of community is reflected in Royal Roads University and its graduates,” Henry said.
While visiting the university this week, the provincial health officer told Steenkamp it was her first visit to the campus since she taught military cadets in Hatley Castle when Royal Roads was a military college. The institution transitioned to a public university in 1995.
Henry’s military experience as a medical diver and flight surgeon is one part of a long career in medicine and public health that helped prepare her for her current role. Henry helped fight polio in Pakistan and Ebola in Uganda before leading the SARS response in Toronto. She became B.C.’s provincial health officer — the first woman to do so — in 2018.
Henry will give a talk in the spring as part of the university’s changemaker lecture series, which features experts who explore innovative solutions to complex challenges facing humanity. Steenkamp said they haven’t finalized the topic for Henry’s talk, but the university will likely ask her to discuss leadership in times of crisis.
“This has been one of the biggest crises we face as a society, probably the biggest in many of our lifetimes. She has demonstrated how you can move through that,” he said.