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Women's Division co-lead has strong history of public service

As volunteerism is evolving, so will the Women’s Division of the Dalhousie Alumni Association and co-lead Cynthia Pilichos is ready to lead the charge.
A woman with light blond hair wearing a white jacket and blue and green-patterned scarf stands behind a podium speaking into the microphone.

Posted: February 29, 2024

By: Alison DeLory

When Cynthia Pilichos (BA’68, BEd’75) first became involved with the Women’s Division of the Dalhousie Alumni Association (DAA) in the 1980s, she was teaching full-time and raising two daughters.

“Life was very busy – and it still is!” says Pilichos. While now retired from the school board, she continues to be one of the long-serving co-leads of the Women’s Division along with Elizabeth Ryan (BA’70).

“I absorbed it from my parents and my grandparents too, that strong sense of giving back,” Pilichos says. Her father, Dr. Harry Smith, was the first lay person to serve as President of the University of King’s College and he was also Nova Scotia’s first ombudsman.

Pilichos also volunteers with the Anglican Diocese, primarily with an diocesan organization that she has been integrally involved in reshaping for the future. She is also a member of various groups, including the almost century-old Dal/King’s reading club—whose original membership was faculty members’ wives.

The Women’s Division’s roots also run deep. It claims proudly to be the oldest alumni association at Dal. It began with the idea of empowering women. Its first task was securing housing for female students so they could pursue a university degree.

When Jennie Shirreff Eddy donated the full amount required to build a women’s residence in 1920, to be named for her parents, Shirreff Hall, the money the Women’s Division had raised to that point was used to furnish three key public spaces in Shirreff Hall: the Victorian Lounge, the Library, and the Study Hall. An endowment of the Women’s Division continues this beautification.

Evolution of fundraising

“People, particularly women of a certain [i.e. older] age, are used to a typical structure and working with organizations a standard way,” says Pilichos. Today, however, she says younger women approach volunteerism differently.

A career educator

Pilichos enjoyed a 30-year career teaching French and serving as a school principal, and then continued teaching, facilitating, and consulting on contracts for another 12 years both with the Halifax school board and other organizations including the Department of Justice and a leadership consortium.

‘Look and listen’ she says was her main advice to students new to learning French.

She says that while it wasn’t without challenges, she loved teaching, particularly at the elementary level. “Class-time was always short and passed quickly; you had to stop while the kids were still having fun,” she says. Her favourite thing, she adds, was “When you were successful in getting kids to see what you were trying to convey. That a-ha moment.”

Moving forward

Pilichos hopes a revitalized presence for the Women’s Division will position it well for the future. Maybe a deeper exploration of the empowerment of women with a wider public, using current technologies, she says, is one avenue to pursue.

“We have to adjust how we communicate. We do now use email, but maybe we need to start having meetings on Zoom instead of in homes.” They are now resuming meetings to figure out a path forward, with great support from alumni engagement in the Office of Advancement and a number of new alumni who have expressed interest.

Though much has changed over Pilichos’s lifetime, whether that be with her work or volunteerism, there has been one constant that has allowed her to enjoy it all.

“You have to be interested in people and find the stories they share fascinating.”