May 22, 2024

Alum’s first-hand experience as mature student inspires legacy gift

Scholarship offers support to students who are single parents

Getting laid off from her job as a tax analyst hurt Pam York like nothing else. 

“Devastating,” recalls York, BA’90. “It was hard for me to go through that, being rejected. That taught a lot of us a lesson — nothing is permanent.”

Financially, too, the news came as a blow.

But there was little time to sulk. Coping with the setback during the economic downturn of the late 1980s in Calgary required action. York tried to rustle up consultancy work. She also thought about opening her own business. But, despite considerable experience as a tax analyst, she discovered that her lack of post-secondary education was a conversation-stopper.

The solution was clear — going to university, even if she was a 42-year-old with a family.

York and her husband, Randy, downsized, relocating the family to a smaller home, a transaction that left just enough money in the kitty for her to attend the University of Calgary, provided she wasted no time.

“We struggled for me to go to university,” she says. “But I needed the degree behind my name.”

Approaching her education like a full-time job, York got busy — staying on campus from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays, plowing into more schoolwork at home after supper and during weekends. To optimize conditions for studying, there were in-house rules, including the mothballing of Randy’s banjo. 

“It got relegated to its case,” York says, laughing. Only Saturday nights were left open for socializing.

portrait of a woman in a graduation cap and gown

Pam York, who returned to school in her 40s after being laid off, graduated from UCalgary in 1990 with a Law and Society degree

Courtesy Pam York

Diligence paid off. By attending spring and summer sessions, too, York completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in law and society in 1990 after only two and a half years.

She considered moving on to law school, but a role with the City of Calgary as a senior commodity tax analyst turned out to be a dandy fit. At one point, she made news — and a name for herself — by challenging Revenue Canada on behalf of The City’s Fleet and Facilities Department, saving taxpayers a tidy sum.

“If it hadn’t been for that university degree, I never would’ve got that job,” says York. After 14 years with The City, she retired and opened her own business — a quilt shop — in Blairmore, Alta. 

But she never forgot her time at UCalgary, especially the struggles of her fellow mature students. One friend — who became a single parent after leaving an abusive relationship — faced a range of challenges, including securing university housing that accepted children. “I just remember it was hard for women,” says York.

So, in 2019, she established the Pamela Hadfield York Family Scholarship, a UCalgary award that goes to an in-need student, with preference given to a mature student who is also a single parent — and often those are women.

“It’s always bugged me — people who get swept under the rug,” says York, who for years was involved with the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Calgary before serving as the public affairs chair for the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women. “Sometimes, you don’t feel like you’re being recognized. There’s nothing like being broke to understand those needs.”

To create the gift, York used savings she and her husband had earmarked for their future grandchildren’s tuition. When it became apparent that they’d never become grandparents, the money was repurposed without hesitation.

The scholarship was immediately established with an initial gift from York, and it will be further supported by an additional donation designated in her will.

Giving now while at the same time establishing a legacy gift for down the line “is becoming more common as people plan for the future through their estate, but then realize that they want to be part of the journey, too,” says Sherry Dahl, UCalgary’s director of development, legacy giving and major gifts. 

Donors can experience the joy of giving back while alive and learn about how the future will look when their ultimate gift comes through their estate plans.”

woman in graduation cap and gown with her young son

Chantelle Gill, the first recipient of the Pamela Hadfield York Family Scholarship, celebrates UCalgary graduation day on June 1, 2022, with her son Cooper

Courtesy Chantelle Gill

Not surprisingly, York was thrilled to hear about Chantelle Gill, the first recipient. 

After studying at the University of Lethbridge, then leaving her studies to work for a couple of years, Gill had decided — while on maternity leave with her baby boy, Cooper — to return to school. “It was kind of now or never,” she says. “I knew I could go forward without an education, but it would certainly be a struggle.”

Gill, BA’22, appreciated the financial lift of the $800 scholarship — which went toward daycare costs — and the sentiment behind it. Because being seen is a wonderful feeling. 

“To get an award was affirming — ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the right place,’ and somebody out there wants single mothers, single parents, to succeed,” she says.

A fixture on the Dean’s List as she worked toward a law and society degree, Gill reaped the benefits of her academic investment. She’s currently the team lead for Student Services at UCalgary’s Faculty of Graduate Studies.

“What a life-changing thing an education can be for somebody.”

About legacy giving

By leaving a gift to the University of Calgary in your estate plan, you are creating a lasting legacy — one that can transform our world and support future generations, whether you give to student awards, research, teaching and learning, or another area that’s meaningful to you.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.