Prof. Margaret-Ann Armour gives a chemistry demonstration at St. James School on Sept. 21, 2011. Armour died on May 25, 2019.
Larry Wong / Postmedia, file
A Edmonton chemist who inspired thousands of girls and women to consider science careers has died.University of Alberta Prof. Margaret-Ann Armour died Saturday morning in hospital. She was 79.Hours before she died, people were still bestowing honours upon the oft-lauded academic.Donning their academic regalia, Concordia University of Edmonton president and vice-chancellor Tim Loreman and two other senior university leaders arrived in Armour’s hospital room Friday evening to present her with an honourary doctor of laws degree.Her main concern, Loreman said, was that students wouldn’t hear the address she had prepared. Loreman read it himself at the Saturday ceremony, hours after her death.“You’re a very determined person when, in the last week of your life, you’re writing a speech for your convocation,” he said Sunday.Determined she was, and a source of endless energy and optimism, say those who knew her well.Female scientists need to networkArmour was born in Scotland and came to Edmonton to do her PhD in organic chemistry, which she completed in 1970, according to the University of Alberta.In 1979, she returned as assistant chair and professor in the chemistry department. In 1982, colleagues asked her to brainstorm how they could attract more women to study physical sciences. Armour become one of the founders of Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST), a university program dedicated to sparking girls’ interests in careers in fields dominated by men.“We need to network and lobby if women in science are going to move ahead,” Armour told the Montreal Gazette in 1985.
Margaret-Ann Armour receives a Governor General’s Award from then-Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean in 2006.
Rod MacIvor /
That networking led to her involvement in similar national organizations promoting growth in the numbers of women studying and working in science.She became legendary enough that students would get flustered by her presence, said Fervone Goings, WISEST team lead, who said staff teased her she was their “rock star.”Just last week, Armour told Goings she still felt there was a large gap for women in academic leadership positions, and wanted to see more progress.Armour was still employed by the university as the associate dean of science for diversity.Although the University of Alberta now has a healthy ratio of female graduate students in chemistry, the faculty still skews male, Jillian Buriak, Canada Research Chair in nanomaterials and a chemistry professor, said Sunday.Armour persistently kept the issue of gender imbalance in the spotlight in a positive way, wielding the latest statistics, Buriak said.Her fast-walking colleague also gave legendary chemistry demonstrations to children and teens, she said.
Margaret-Ann Armour, assistant dean of diversity in the faculty of science at the University of Alberta, was named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network.
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TOM BRAID/EDMONTON SUN QMI AGEN
Her happiest moments were likely when she was whipping up a colourful concoction or generating puffs of smoke for groups of kids, Buriak said.“She was so good at that. She was a one-woman show.”Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour SchoolWhen the Edmonton public school board announced a new K-9 school in Ambleside would be named for Armour, she was surprised and honoured, said Jody Lundell, principal of Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour School.When its doors opened on Sept. 1, 2016, Armour was out front, greeting children and parents with smiles and hugs, Lundell said.If there was a special event, choir or band performance or Grade 9 graduation, Armour was there. During her visits, she would tell stories about how she became curious about science by playing with mechanical toys and trains, or, the first time she ate a banana after the Second World War ended.
Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour meets Grade 7 students Madeline, left, and Isabelle at her namesake school, newly opened in Edmonton, Alberta on Sept. 1, 2016.
Ian Kucerak Kucerak, Ian /
Although Armour was sick, she last visited the school in April.Lundell was tearful on Sunday. She thought they’d have more time with her, she said.“Everybody will be hugging, because that’s what she did. Kids remember the hugs. She was like their grandma and she loved them,” Lundell said.Armour told the Journal in 1990, “The young women I have contact with, I see me giving to them what I would give to a family.”Forget the national awards — that’s how Lundell says the school will think of its namesake.“It was just how kind she was, and gentle, and loving, and that presence and that warmth.”email@example.com