Sonia Armstrong Labatt 1956

Environmental Leadership and Philanthropist

How fitting, then, that her daughter Jacquie Labatt Randle ’80, nominated Sonia for this year’s Old Girls Award for the impact that her “second” career has made in the field of environmental studies.

She received her MA in 1990 in environmental management and an award-winning PhD in 1995, at the age of 57. ” After completing my BA, I always had in the back of my mind that I would like to go back to pursue academic studies further,” admits Sonia. In addition to having the time and energy to throw into her passion for the environment, she also felt that she was in a position to confront corporate Canada. “Being a mature student, I had already met people in industry with the capacity to improve things. So I thought I could make a difference.” Her no-nonsense PhD dissertation topic? Corporate Response to Environmental Issues: A Case Study of Packaging.

Activism and finger-pointing antics among her well-placed peers aren’t exactly Sonia’s style. “I think I’ve become realistic with maturity. Rather than hugging trees, I tend to look for partnerships and meetings of minds. I guess in my first career, I learned that consultation and collaboration are effective tools,” says the grandmother of six.

Now, Sonia’s teaching and writing focus on the impact of environmental issues on the financial services sector. The insurance industry faces enormous consequences of worldwide floods and hurricanes. Banks find themselves liable for the cleanup of toxic lands they repossess from industry, while portfolio managers are facing increased public pressure to rethink their investments in environmentally destructive companies.

In addition to her studies and teaching, Sonia has held positions on a number of high-profile boards, including Havergal College, the Clarke Institute Foundation, the National Ballet of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Hospital for Sick Children. At Sick Kids, Sonia and her husband Arthur founded the Brain Tumour Research Centre, focusing the funding on the development and retention of scientific excellence in Canada. She’s also established a fund to support research into the auto-immune dysfunction, polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR).

Sonia credits Havergal with helping to channel her determination and drive. ” I attribute a lot to the school. It managed me well and gave me confidence to meet challenges, both local and global. Such guidance contributes to a strong sense of self-worth.”

Written by Tralee Pearce 1987