Dr. Bette Stephenson

Dr. Bette Mildred Stephenson Pengelly, O.C., O.Ont., M.D., F.C.F.P.(C), D.Litt. (Hon.), LL.D. (Hon.), O.ST.J.   -  July 31, 2021 – August 19, 2021

Bette was the daughter of Carl and Mildred Stephenson. Born in Aurora, Ontario, Bette attended primary and secondary school in Willowdale.  She was pre-deceased by her sister Faye, brother Robert, husband Dr. G. Allan Pengelly, and son-in-law Randall Kennedy.  She is survived by her children, Stephen Pengelly (Anne), Elizabeth Kennedy, Christopher Pengelly (Elizabeth), Michael Pengelly (Linda), Timothy Pengelly (Joyce) and Mary-Katherine Pengelly (Duane), grandchildren, Brynn Kennedy (Brad), Evan Kennedy, Patrick Pengelly (Sayran), Robert Pengelly, Andrew Pengelly (Brooke) and great-grandchildren, Douglas, Juniper, Aubrey, Emmalene and Heyv

Bette decided she would be a physician at the age of five and pursued that objective even though it eventually required persuading the Dean of Medicine at the University of Toronto to accept her into the programme a year before she was eligible.  She became a doctor in 1946, met and married Allan Pengelly, who was also a med student, in 1948, and, as she had planned, had six children.

Bette practiced family medicine in Willowdale and was an active member of the medical staff at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto until 1988.  She was a founding member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Director of the Outpatient Department of Women’s College Hospital, the first Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Women’s College, the President of the Medical Staff and Chair of the Medical Advisory Committee at Women’s College. 

From 1961 to 1964, Bette was Chair of the National Committee on Education, College of Family Physicians of Canada. From 1964 to 1973, Bette was the first woman to be elected to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Medical Association.  From 1968 to 1969, was the first Chair of the Ontario Medical Association Board of Directors and from 1970 to 1971, was the first woman President of the Ontario Medical Association.

In 1972, Bette was the first Woman elected Chair of the Board of the Canadian Medical Association and in 1973, she was a member of the first medical delegation invited to the People’s Republic of China.  From 1974 to 1975, she served as the first woman President of the Canadian Medical Association.

Although Bette had no aspirations to run for public office, she was persuaded, in 1975, to contest the PC nomination and election in what was then the York Mills Riding, held previously by Dalton Bales. Shortly after being elected, Premier William Davis invited her to become Ontario’s first female Minister of Labour.  In that role, she accepted and implemented the recommendations contained in the Report of the Commission on Safety in the Mining Industry in Ontario.  She was also instrumental in establishing the Division of Health and Safety at the Ministry of Labour.

As Minister of Education, Colleges and Universities from 1978 to 1985, Bette established the Secondary Education Review Committee, accepted its report on Ontario Secondary Education and introduced the Blueprint for Secondary Schools in the Province.  Bette was also responsible for establishing the Bovey Commission on Post Secondary Funding in Ontario and introduced legislation establishing a program and funding for Special Education in the Province.

In addition to the Labour and Education, Colleges and Universities portfolios, Bette served as acting Minster of Health in 1976, Chair of Management Board of Cabinet, Deputy Premier and Minister of Treasury and Economics.

After leaving Government in 1985, Bette served on a number of Boards including the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, The Ontario Police Commission, the Board of Governors of Women’s College Hospital, the Association for Learning Disabilities, Ridley College, the Canadian Association for Lifelong Learning, and was Chair of the Province’s Learning Opportunities Task Force.  Bette also served as a Board member of Education Quality and Accountability Ontario (EQAO), the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the Ontario Innovation Trust, the Cancer Research Institute of Ontario and was Chair of the Research and Grants Committee of the Justin Eves Foundation

Bette was the recipient of the Order of Canada (Officer), the Order of Ontario, the Order of St. John, the Queen’s Silver and Gold Jubilee Medals, the B’Nai B’rith’s Woman of the Year Award, the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case and was the first Canadian to receive the Citation for Outstanding Public Service by the Council for Exceptional Children.  Bette was also the recipient of honourary degrees from Nipissing University (D.Litt.) and the University of Toronto (LL.D.).

Visitation will be held on Friday, August 23rd from 2 to 4 pm and from 6 to 9 pm and on Saturday, August 24th from noon to 1 pm, at the R.S. Kane Funeral Home, 6150 Yonge Street in North York.  The Funeral Service will be held Saturday, August 24th at 1 pm at R.S. Kane Funeral Home.  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Justin Eves Foundation or the Women’s College Hospital Foundation.