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Alberta’s first woman chief judge passes away

|Written By Gail J. Cohen

Former Alberta Provincial Court chief judge Gail Vickery passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer. She was the first woman appointed to lead the provincial court when she became chief judge in May 2006.

Judge Gail Vickery shortly before her retirement from the Alberta Provincial Court in May 2013. (Photo: Geoff Ellwand)

Current Chief Judge Terry Matchett sent the following message to the Provincial Court.

"We have lost a wonderful leader, a passionate and dedicated supporter of this Court, and a very dear friend.  Gail had an indomitable spirit.  Her strength and courage over the past eight years as she battled her illness and simultaneously managed to lead our Court is a legacy which all of us who had the honour of serving with her will never forget."

Praise for Vickery came also from Dave Hancock, Alberta's premiere and former justice minister.

“During my tenure as Minister of Justice, I had the privilege of working with Gail Vickery while she served as a Provincial Court judge. Her innovative thinking, exemplary leadership and unwavering commitment to justice set her apart as a Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta,” said Hancock. “Gail was passionate about her work and a strong supporter of the Provincial Court and her reputation as being down to earth and personable made her a pleasure to know and work with. Her service to Albertans will not be forgotten.”

She was born in Winnipeg and led a very interesting life. Although Vickery never finished high school, after a few years of marriage and being posted abroad with her soldier husband, she decided on their return to Canada that she wanted to go to university. After taking a few high school classes she managed to gain special adult entry.

In 1991 Vickery was diagnosed with breast cancer and it remained her “constant companion.”

As writer Geoff Ellwand noted in an article in Canadian Lawyer on her retirement from the court in May 2013: “Vickery liked university and after earning a BA decided to try law school. She won a spot at Dalhousie in Halifax. She did well but remembers being advised not to let on that she typed. The general feeling among woman was ‘the more you looked like a secretary, the less you’d be treated like a lawyer.’ When she graduated she got a job at Macleod Dixon in Calgary. By this time she was 33.” In 1984, she became a partner in the firm.

What followed were years of deals and corporate-commercial work — including four years of intrique, danger and international deals at the firm’s Kazakhstan office, wrote Ellwand.

"Gail Vickery was one of our real pioneers in becoming the first female partner of Macleod Dixon, as well as one of our initial partners in our international office in Almaty, Kazakhstan,” said Paul Drager, a senior partner with Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP (which Macleod Dixon became part of in 2012). “Gail never shied away from challenges and served her multitude of energy, banking, and corporate clients exceptionally well.”

After returning to Canada, she felt it was time to move on and resigned from the firm. She’d put in an application to become a judge and when it came through, put on hold her big plans for touring around North America.

She joined the Family and Youth Court in Calgary on Sept. 5, 2000. On July 1, 2004, she was appointed assistant chief judge of the court and two years later, on May 12, 2006 she was the first woman to be appointed Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta.

Drager said Vickery’s “willingness then to become a judge, first in family court and then rising to chief justice of the Provincial Court was an example to us all of her great desire to serve the public. We offer our condolences to her family and vast amount of friends both here in Alberta and internationally.”

“Her hard working nature and steady hand, coupled with her firm belief in the principles of justice are lasting contributions to our justice system and a distinguished 40-year legal career,” said Alberta Justice and Solicitor General Minister Jonathan Denis.

A memorial service will be Sept. 6 at 11 a.m. at the First Alliance Church, 12345 - 40th Street SE, Calgary, AB.

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Update 5:35 pm: Comments added from Paul Drager.

Update Aug. 29: Comments from Chief Judge Matchett and information regarding memorial service.

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