For the love of Labrador

Dec 12th, 2018

Lisa Pendergast

Bill and Carolyn Rompkey
For the love of Labrador

Carolyn Rompkey, along with her children Peter and Hilary, created the Honourable Dr. William Rompkey Memorial Scholarship in 2017 to remember her late husband.

It’s a scholarship created in the spirit of two things that have defined their family: Labrador and higher education.

The Rompkeys first met while attending Memorial University.

Dr. Rompkey was pursuing a bachelor of arts degree at the time, and ultimately completed a graduate diploma in education and a master of arts from Memorial. Mrs. Rompkey originally planned on studying nursing, but was too young to apply, so she went to Memorial for a year of general studies. She changed her mind and went on to become a physical education teacher instead.

Road to Labrador

After graduation, they were both teaching in St. John’s when a colleague of Dr. Rompkey’s, who had taught in North West River, mentioned that Dr. William Anthony Paddon, the chair of the school board (and future lieutenant-governor) was recruiting teachers to go to Labrador.

“Bill and I were engaged to be married in April 1963 and we met him in February,” said Mrs. Rompkey. “Dr. Paddon told us such wonderful stories, that we decided to go and opted to be part of a unique adventure.”

The Rompkeys settled in North West River. Dr. Rompkey served as school principal and Mrs. Rompkey taught Grades 5 and 6.

In 1967 the Department of Labrador Affairs opened and he became the first director of that organization. The job of school superintendent was created for the province shortly thereafter and Dr. Rompkey was asked to be the first superintendent for Labrador East. After eight years, they left for Toronto as Dr. Rompkey had decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Toronto. Halfway through the program, a federal election was called.

“When the election was called, he had several calls, and two in particular from Ed Roberts and Mel Woodward saying, ‘Come back and run for us,’ in the riding of Grand Falls-White Bay-Labrador,” said Mrs. Rompkey.

“So, he went to the dean and he said, ‘If you would like to run, go and run with our blessing and good luck. If you don’t win, we are going to hold your place and you can come back and finish your PhD.’ Luckily, he did get elected and that was it!”

Dr. Rompkey was elected to the House of Commons in 1972, the first of seven consecutive election victories that saw him represent Newfoundland and Labrador as a member of Parliament serving in the cabinets of Pierre Trudeau and John Turner. In 1988 a separate riding for Labrador was created; Dr. Rompkey served as its first ever MP until 1995 when Jean Chretien appointed him to the Senate. In the Senate he held the positions of whip and deputy leader of the government and he was the chair of several committees, including the Fisheries Committee, which was well-recognized for work in the Arctic. He retired in 2011, after almost 40 years of service.

His passion for Labrador and the people of his riding motivated Dr. Rompkey during a long and successful career in politics.

Notable among many projects and initiatives Dr. Rompkey spearheaded on behalf of his riding was the building of airstrips in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador to improve access to remote areas. The securing of the original funding to start the Trans-Labrador Highway as well as funding for the original School of Music at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus were two of his proudest accomplishments.

Following Dr. Rompkey’s passing in 2017, his wife and children decided to do something to continue his legacy of service to the people of Labrador: create a scholarship in his name.

“Hilary, Peter and I felt that because we were so involved in education — and that’s what brought us to Labrador — that we wanted to be able to do something to enable a young Labradorian,” Mrs. Rompkey said. “Bill always felt that education was the cure-all for everything. And if you can help one person, that means a lot.”

The result was the Honourable Dr. William Rompkey Memorial Scholarship, to be awarded to a first-year student at Memorial who graduated from a high school in Labrador.

Maria Manstan, of Labrador City, is the inaugural scholarship recipient. Ms. Manstan is currently taking a year of general studies at Memorial University and applying to the School of Nursing in 2019.

“I was honoured to receive such a generous scholarship,” said Ms. Manstan. “This scholarship is financially helping me continue my education, and my parents and I are very grateful. Providing opportunities like this is very motivating for students as they pursue their passions and mine has always been to help people.”

Through students like Ms. Manstan, the Rompkeys’ tie to Labrador will live on for generations to come.

“The best thing we ever did was go to Labrador,” said Mrs. Rompkey. “Both of our children were born there and we’ve always had this wonderful connection. We are so happy to remember Bill in this way.”