Myrtle (Bainbridge) Surjik: Beauty queen. Feminist. Social worker. Activist. Born Oct 21, 1933, in Regina; died Dec 16, 2018, in Regina; of dementia-related illness; aged 85.
In an era when winning the title of Miss Grey Cup might have led to ongoing celebrity, Myrtle Surjik chose a different path. She was passionate about gender equity and reproductive rights and would always seek to ease the pain of others and to create a kinder, gentler world.
Myrtle Bainbridge grew up in Regina during the Great Depression, and knew the pain of loss early in her life. Her father died when she was a child, leaving her mother to raise Myrtle and her brother in her grandmother’s boarding house. In spite of the difficulties, Myrtle was unstoppable.
After high school, Myrtle took a secretarial course in Regina. Friends secretly entered her into the school’s beauty contest and she was surprised to be crowned Miss Balfour Tech. Later, she won the title of Miss Saskatchewan Roughrider and, in 1951, was dubbed the “Dimpled Darling of the West” as she was crowned Canada’s first Miss Grey Cup.
She worked briefly as a model and a flight attendant before meeting Dave Surjik, a young geophysicist. He was smitten by the beautiful and energetic Myrtle. They married in 1956 and lived in Regina. Theirs was a love affair that lasted a lifetime.
Raising four children might have kept an ordinary woman busy, but Myrtle Surjik was no ordinary woman! When she saw an issue that needed correction or intervention, she took it on. She worked with the Regina Council of Women and the Family Planning Association in the 1960s. She fought for Medicare and supported the historic Saskatchewan doctors’ strike by giving birth to her fourth child at home. In the early 1970s, she made a forceful representation to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Then, when she was appointed to the board of governors of the University of Regina, one of her first questions was, “Why are there so few women in senior positions at this university?”
In her 40s, Myrtle decided to resume her formal education. She graduated from the University of Regina with a bachelor of social work in 1976 and worked for the provincial psychiatric services department. Later, when mental illness touched her family, she became a fierce advocate for research and better services in the treatment of schizophrenia. She was awarded the Canada Health and Welfare Volunteer Award for her work and was recognized by her university as a distinguished alumnus.
Myrtle was as unflinching in her support of Dave and their children as they were of her educational and social-action commitments. Their home was warm and welcoming, full of lively conversation and debate, strong political opinions, poetry and laughter.
Myrtle was proud of her phenomenal memory and it is a cruel irony that her final illness robbed her of it early in its course. She grew up in an era when memorization was an educational requirement … poetry, Shakespeare’s soliloquies, dates and facts. And Myrtle excelled, using that information to make her point. Launching into one of her favourite lines, she would grasp her thigh or belly and give a rousing imitation of Hamlet: ”Oh that this too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into dew.” Who among us hasn’t wished for that from time to time?
Bonnie DuPont is Myrtle’s friend.
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