Connie Isherwood, QC

By Leslie Campbell, March 2012

Ninety-two and still working, she credits genes, work, family and faith for her longevity and health.

Connie (Holmes) Isherwood greets me graciously from behind her large desk in her legal office in a heritage building on Fort Street. Framed by a big bay window behind her, she seems but much the same as when I first met her—which hails back to the heyday of the Women’s Business Network over 20 years ago. Her hair is still strawberry blonde; her nails carefully polished.

Now 92, Connie is the oldest practising female lawyer in BC. Daily, she drives from Sooke to work in the circa 1887 building. She tells me her recently departed husband Foster Isherwood restored this building—along with the one next door—many years ago. In her inner office, everything seems orderly and calm. Despite Fort Street a few metres away, it’s also quiet—except for the secretary typing correspondence on a typewriter. Connie informs me they only use computers for research.

Connie is not interested in retirement. She loves the problem-solving (she was nicknamed “Sherlock Holmes” at law school) and using her skills to help people. For some families she has served three generations; she’s sometimes been able to tell clients about the grandparents they never knew.

She also appreciates the variety afforded by her practice of general civil law: “In law, every client who comes in has some different problem—no two are alike and everyone thinks their problem is the worst problem in the world and you must deal with it right away, so you never have a chance to wonder what you’re going to do next.”

Yet when Connie Holmes was growing up in Nanaimo, she never thought she’d become a lawyer, let alone one who would practice for over six decades. Instead she dreamed of music and performing. She sang and played the piano and drums. In her early 20s, she tells me, she toured with an all-girl dance band across the Western provinces. “That was really quite fun,” admits Connie, who still loves listening to Big Band music.

In her mid 20s, she started working for Victoria lawyer Ernest Tait in Victoria. He must have been impressed by the young woman’s intellect and temperament, because he was soon encouraging her to go to university for a law degree. At first she said, “No I don’t want to do that”—she still had “a hankering to go into show business”—but she gradually fell under the spell of the idea. She spent two years working on getting prerequisites from Victoria College and did her first year of law school at UBC by correspondence while working for Tait. During the two years she spent on campus at UBC, lectures were held in army huts. Her law class had 208 students—200 of them men. “Now,” reports Connie happily, “it’s more like 50/50.” 

At school she excelled—she was the first woman to win the Law Society’s gold medal—and in 1951 she was called to the bar, returning to Victoria to work for Mr Tait out of his office in the Stobbart Building on Yates (an area now occupied by St Andrews Square). “At that time,” says Connie, “there was a real estate boom going on. The war was over, the fellows were coming back, starting families and buying homes...there was considerable building, so real estate transactions were a good deal of the practice at that time. And always estates, always family disputes of some kind.”

Tait was her mentor, encouraging her and introducing her to many colleagues. “He was a very sound and solid lawyer who didn’t get ruffled or upset about things and had a good philosophy about helping people,” says Connie, who could also be describing herself.

Tait died in 1953 and Connie took over the practice on her own. A decade later, she married a former classmate, and in 1964, they merged their respective law firms into Holmes & Isherwood.

Over the ensuing years, Connie has rarely taken time off. After adopting her two children, she allows, “I think I might have taken a few days off.” These days she works about half-time—she is 92 after all. A widow since November, Connie now lives with her son in the Sooke house her husband built. She thinks she’ll move into town soon to avoid the long commute.

Besides work and family, Connie points to “the value of faith as the basis for life, work, and friendship.” In her case, that means the Anglican Church, for which she has served as chancellor for BC for 25 years.

An early member of the Women’s Business Network, she is also a long-time supporter of the arts, particularly the Victoria Symphony, the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Asian Arts Society. She’s also active in the Canadian Scottish Regiment, something she got involved with originally because of her then-young son. “As time went on my son grew out of cadets, but I have stayed with them,” she chuckles. This year is the 100th anniversary of the regiment so there are big plans afoot for summer celebrations.

While she credits her good health, at least in part, to her genes, Connie feels that keeping active, both in body and mind, are the main keys to a happy elderhood. She truly believes “work is therapeutic.” And her legal training has helped her learn not to worry: “In law there are many things to think about, but you have to be objective and not let it affect you personally.” She calmly does her best and doesn’t stress about things: “If you can organize your life and feel as if you’ve done as much as you can in one day, then carry on the next day; that’s a good plan to follow.”

Before I leave, I ask if I can take a photo, and Connie quickly gets up and starts pushing around the furniture to make room in front of a bookcase. As she gamely tries different poses, I recall her early aspirations as a performer—and how that pull was satisfied by “the many roles given to me in my years in law.”

Leslie Campbell invites readers to send in profiles or suggestions of interesting elders they know to focusedit@shaw.ca.