Celebrating the Extraordinary Life and Career of Joan Gilroy

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Celebrating the Extraordinary Life and Career of Joan Gilroy

Posted by Karla Hatt on April 20, 2023 in News
Joan Gilroy
Joan Gilroy

School of Social Work colleagues share their reflections on a true trailblazer.

The School of Social work was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Joan Gilroy, a beloved colleague, mentor and leader. Joan was the first female Director of the Maritime School of Social Work (1990-1996) and a true trailblazer for feminist social work locally and nationally.

The following are some reflections on Joan’s life and career and the impact she had on Dalhousie, her colleagues and the field of social work.

“I remember meeting Joan when I was teaching at St. Thomas University, when representatives from the Atlantic schools of social work gathered in St. John’s, NFLD to build an Atlantic alliance for social work education.  We all were ‘screeched in’ at Dr. Bill Rowe’s home, which for those who don’t know included kissing a cod, swearing allegiance to Newfoundland, and having a shot of Newfoundland screech rum. We were all good sports and completed our initiation. I also remember Joan from the Women’s Caucus of the Canadian Schools of Social Work meetings. She had a gentle and supportive demeanor and was always welcoming and supporting junior members. But make no mistake, she was firm in her gender politics. When I think of women in social work education I immediately think of mentors like Joan Gilroy. Her vision for women’s equality paved a clear path for female academics within our School and beyond. Joan was a believer in women’s abilities and instilled confidence in the women who had the privilege to work with her.

Thank you, Joan.”

Judy MacDonald, Director SSW

“I met Joan Gilroy when I was a very young student in the Masters of Social Work program at the Maritime School of Social Work, Dalhousie University. I feel privileged to have known her. Her belief in and role-modelling of social work has been my greatest influence.

Social Justice could have been her middle name.

Joan was a feminist and a social worker, bridging the gap between theory and practice at a time when it seemed uncomfortable and awkward to me as a young woman. I will always be encouraged by her tireless work towards a socially just society. She demonstrated her social work principles and intellect to affect change, through her strategic injections of political actions into the community. These actions included collaborating to start up community and provincial organizations, including the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, known today as the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, NSCSW.

As a social worker, Joan applied her critical reflections and questions to child welfare issues, criminology, education, women’s rights, and family dynamics, always identifying and acknowledging the power imbalances that needed to be dismantled. She championed women and children in the hope of bringing social justice to services in our communities. She accomplished this through her unwavering respect for each person and her quiet, diligent pursuit of understanding people and organizations in their attempts to emulate social justice.

Even after her retirement, Joan continued to be involved in social justice action. She revived the Dalhousie School of Social Work Alumni Association and tirelessly lobbied for scholarship funds for social work students!

I will miss her intelligent and interesting conversations, her hopefulness, her sense of humour, her swanky glasses, and bright outfits, but most of all, her kindness. Rest in peace Joan.”


Annemieke Vink (Alumni SSW)

“I was a BSW student in 1989 when Joan Gilroy was assigned to be my faculty advisor. We met bi-weekly from September to April that year, passing a journal back and forth between us, as I sought to integrate my classroom and field experiences, and she guided me with prompts, challenges, and validation. I am so grateful to have been in this relationship with Joan when the Montreal Massacre occurred; our scheduled meeting was the day following December 6, 1989. For the days and weeks that followed we grieved and raged as we unpacked the layers of harms, and as I learned from her deep and unwavering feminist analysis.

In the years that followed this close mentoring, Joan wrote cards to me every time she became aware of anything in my life, notably the births of my children and their subsequent adventures in spelling bees and sporting events. When I joined the faculty of the School of Social Work, again I received a card in the mail, welcoming me as a colleague in social work education. Thereafter, at graduation and alumni events, where Joan was always present as a champion, we would address the outgoing students, saying “Look! You, too, can have an ongoing relationship with your faculty - for decades!”

I am grateful to have known and learned from Joan Gilroy, a true pillar of social work analysis and activism, and a woman of conviction, commitment, and warmth.”

Marion Brown (Associate Dean Academic, Faculty of Health)

“Joan faced her health challenges head on with the same grace and strength she showed in many facets of her life.  She was a proud feminist, had a sparkle in her eye and a quick wit. She loved to laugh and found humour in various situations. Friends and colleagues knew she was in their corner in difficult times.  She was committed to the Alumni Committee and stayed involved for many years during her retirement including wonderful potlucks with the best of food and drink. 

I will miss her.”

Cyndi Hall (Field Coordinator)

“I will always remember and appreciate Professor Joan Gilroy’s commitment to feminist social work. Before feminism was widely recognized in social work, Joan was advocating for the rights of women and working for social justice from feminist perspectives. Joan’s reach was local, national and international. In fact, it was through Joan that I first met Dr. Lena Dominelli, author of two seminal texts that became foundational to my practice; Feminist Social Work and Anti-Racist Social Work. As a result of the luncheon that Joan organized for us, Lena became my PhD supervisor at the University of Sheffield in England, which became a career defining decision for me. I will be forever grateful for Joan’s support of my academic career. 

Joan was an encourager, an organizer, and a strong community voice on women’s issues. I always appreciated the opportunities to engage in research, challenging conversations, collaborative writing, and actions for change with her. Joan was deeply committed to the School of Social Work and her legacy will live on through the many students that she inspired over the years.” 

Wanda Thomas Bernard (Professor Emeritus)

“What I would say about Joan was that she was the first woman Director of the School of Social Work. She was dedicated to the School all her life. Her scholarship and activism were rooted in the fostering of a greater feminist understanding of the position, value, and influence of women in society. She helped to expand the concept of social justice in the School of Social Work and in the field of social work in general. This was a critical addition to the conceptualizing of social work's role in the quest for social change. That contribution lives on in the attempts to form and reformulate a more inclusive theory and approach to social work practice.”

Brenda Richard (retired former Interim Director and Associate Director)

Read Joan’s obituary here.