On November 15th, National Philanthropy Day, the University of Saskatchewan honours one of our most committed supporters – the Honorable Sylvia Fedoruk (O.C., S.O.M).
Through a life of achievement in medical research, health sciences and public service, The Honourable Sylvia Fedoruk left a profound mark on the University of Saskatchewan and the world. Born in Canora in 1927, Sylvia’s illustrious academic career began in a one-room school taught by her father. She graduated from high school in Ontario, where her family had moved during WWII, but came home to the U of S in 1946 for her BA, with high honours in physics, and her master’s degree. An outstanding scholar and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Gold Medal, she began teaching medical physics after graduation and became the radiation physicist at the Saskatoon Cancer Clinic.
In 1951, Dr. Fedoruk joined the Saskatchewan medical team that would create the world’s first cobalt radiotherapy machine for cancer treatment. Delivering pinpointed cobalt radiation safely and accurately, the Cobalt-60 unit—nicknamed the ‘Cobalt Bomb’—could attack deep tumours without damaging the skin. By the 1960s, this technology was the standard for radiation treatment. Credited with saving the lives of millions of cancer patients, these workhorse machines still provide 70 per cent of the world’s radiotherapy. Dr. Fedoruk’s precise radiation dose distribution measurements also remain the world’s standard, over 60 years later.
Retiring in 1986 from cancer research, Sylvia threw her considerable energy and talents into community and public service, becoming the first female U of S chancellor and Saskatchewan’s first female lieutenant governor. Renowned for her good humour and dignity, “Syl” was also as much at ease on the playing field as she was in the lab, the university senate chamber or at an official government function.
She was an outstanding all-around athlete who won a dozen intervarsity track and field championships during her student days, was goalie for the U of S hockey team, and played for the basketball, golf and volleyball teams. After graduation, she became a softball champion and star curler, and was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1986.
Sylvia passed away in September 2012 at the age of 85, having left a lasting imprint on the scientific, academic, sporting and public communities that she served so well. She was named a member of the Order of Canada and an Alumni of Influence, and the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation was renamed in her honour in October 2012. U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac has described Sylvia’s legacy, saying, “She was a renowned innovator, a proud alumna, a community leader in every sense of the term and a tireless booster of the University of Saskatchewan.”
Sylvia’s legacy also included her generous planned gift to help students through the Fedoruk Family Fund. Established with an initial $200,000 donation and augmented with the gift of her life insurance policy proceeds, the fund supports the Merylyn K. Vann Bursary for students with disabilities, the Sylvia Fedoruk Award in Women’s Basketball for Huskie athletes, and the Sylvia Fedoruk Scholarship for women majoring in physics or engineering physics. Honouring this trail-blazing woman, these awards now pass the torch to future generations of students.
Written by Susan Pederson