“I’ve seen the glass ceiling and it’s made out of golf balls,” Nancy Riche told a women’s conference of the Canadian Labour Congress in the 1990s when she was secretary-treasurer.
That combination of wry Newfoundland humour and telling it like it is was Nancy’s trademark. She was a fierce fighter for women and for workers. She stood up against all odds to become a major figure in Canada’s labour movement. Nancy died on Saturday in Newfoundland, her home. In typical Nancy fashion, she volunteered to do phoning for the NDP during the Newfoundland election from her hospital bed.
I don’t remember where I first met Nancy but it was probably at a NAC (National Action Committee on the Status of Women) annual general meeting. You always knew when Nancy was around. She came to the Canadian Labour Congress as a seasoned union leader and activist. A community college instructor in Newfoundland and Labrador, she served from 1984 to 1986 as secretary-treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), the national umbrella union representing the interests of provincial public service workers.
“We are all saddened by Nancy’s death. Workers everywhere have lost a fighter,” says Ken Georgetti, president of the CLC. “She never backed down from a challenge, and never stopped working for everyday working people.”
Nancy touched the life of almost everyone who met her. She was brimming with life, passion, warmth and humour.
“I consider it an honour to have worked with her, ” Winnie Ng told me. “She was a true ally for women of colour in labour movement at a time when those people were few and far between.”
She was also a powerful ally inside the labour movement for the women’s movement. She believed strongly in the power of an alliance between the labour movement and the women’s movement and did whatever she could to strengthen that alliance.
When the Supreme Court decision decriminalizing abortion came down, the CLC women’s committee was having a conference. Nancy led the group in joyous celebration and even shed a tear or two. She proudly recounted the story the following year in introducing me to the women’s conference.
When she retired from the CLC, Nancy returned to Newfoundland where she helped to broaden the support for the NDP. The current leader of the Newfoundland NDP, Lorraine Michael, said of her in a statement: “Nancy worked unstintingly to help the vulnerable and she believed in a better future for all of us in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Nancy loved life and the fight for social justice and equality. We will miss her.