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Myra Ava Freeman

b. 1949

by Michael Brown

The first Jew to be appointed lieutenant governor of a Canadian province and the first woman to hold the office in Nova Scotia, Myra Freeman was born in St. John, New Brunswick, as were her parents, Anne Golda (Freedman) Holtzman (1916–1986) and Harry Holtzman (1912–2004). Her mother was a homemaker and her father a businessman. Freeman left St. John when she enrolled in Dalhousie University (B.A., 1970, B.Ed., 1971) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the year of her graduation she married Lawrence Allan Freeman (b. 1949), a lawyer and native of Halifax, where the family continues to live.

From 1970 to 2000 Freeman was an elementary teacher in the Halifax public schools, where she gained a reputation as a gifted and innovative educator. At the same time, she volunteered in a variety of public service agencies in the Jewish and general communities. She served on the Education Committee of Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax and chaired the committee that oversaw the renovation of the congregation’s social hall; she chaired the UIA Partnership 2000 Committee in Atlantic Canada, the CRB Foundation Gift of Israel Program for Atlantic Canada, co-chaired the Small Communities Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and served on the Congress national executive. (Her husband served two terms as president of the Atlantic Jewish Council.) She served on the boards of the Kidney Foundation and the Grace Maternity Hospital Foundation in Halifax, the Nova Scotia Division of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Nova Scotia Talent Trust Fund, and also as Festival Chair of the World Figure Skating Championships (1990) and chair of the G–7 Spousal Program, when that group met in Halifax in 1995. In recognition of her leadership and accomplishments, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed her Lieutenant Governor in 2000, the thirtieth person to hold the post since Confederation in 1867.

As lieutenant governor Freeman has made her mandate the redefinition and democratization of the largely ceremonial office. She has opened Government House to more than twenty thousand visitors a year, encouraged young people to take an active interest in Canadian heritage, volunteerism and public service, established provincial Heritage Fairs for students in every school board across the province and established new awards to encourage excellence in a number of fields: the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Arts Foundation and Master Award; the Lieutenant Governor’s Greenwing Award for Wetland Conservation; and, with the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, the Lieutenant Governor’s Teaching Award. She has also established the Lieutenant Governor’s [Annual] Symposium, the topic of which in 2004 was “Women and Leadership—Helping Nova Scotia Grow.”

In recognition of her vigorous leadership as lieutenant governor, Freeman has been awarded honorary degrees by two Nova Scotia universities: Doctor of Humane Letters by Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax (2004) and Doctors of Laws by Cape Breton University in Sydney (2005). In 2001 she was named Dame of Justice and National Vice-Prior of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The next year she became the first recipient and Chancellor of the Order of Nova Scotia. Also in 2002, Freeman received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires Distinguished Service Medal and the Royal Canadian Legion Seventy-fifth Anniversary Medal. In 2003 she was named First Honorary Captain (Navy) of Maritime Forces Atlantic, Her Majesty’s Canadian Forces. A year later, she was designated a “Trailblazer” and one of Canada’s Hundred Outstanding Women by the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario (London) and the Women’s Executive Network, and a recipient of the Women in Action Humanitarian Award of the Israel Cancer Research Foundation.

Freeman is particularly notable for the high Jewish profile she has maintained as lieutenant governor. In 2003, she was the main speaker at the annual Habad dinner in Toronto and in 2004 she delivered the inaugural lecture of the “Women in Public and International Affairs” series at New York’s Yeshiva University. Since she and her family have been in residence in Government House, the kitchens have been kosher.

Freeman has one brother: Norman Holtzman (b. 1943), a businessman. She and her husband have three children: Daniel Marc (b. 1976), an investment banker, Jonathan David (b. 1979), a lawyer, and Debra Beth (b. 1981), an associate advertising account manager.

How to cite this page

Brown, Michael. "Myra Ava Freeman." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/freeman-myra-ava>.

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