Rosemary Billings

1969 English and American Studies

Rosemary Billings 2006 How did you get to where you are now? /What are you doing now?
After leaving Keele, I worked for a year as a UK publisher’s agent in Toronto, Canada, then did a Master’s degree in English Literature at Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada).  I followed my heart and future husband back to England and worked for the Booksellers Association in London as a conference organizer for a couple of years.  Then back to Canada, and worked in paid and unpaid positions with a number of feminist grass-roots organizations. 

In 1974, I was one of 30 people who won a national competition to join the Canadian public service as an administrative trainee (the very lowest officer rank there was). Over the next 29 years, I was employed variously by Public Archives, Customs and Excise, Public Works, Canada Communication Group and the Treasury Board in fields ranging from management consulting to finance, real property portfolio management, privatization and HR reform.  My final position was as an assistant deputy minister with the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Between 1977 and 1981, I was honoured to have been elected as the Ottawa area member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NACSW) which, at the time, represented over 700 women’s groups in Canada and successfully lobbied the federal and provincial governments for equity reforms in everything from the laws affecting sexual assault, rights of native women, employment and pension equity.

I retired from full-time employment in 2003 to look after my ailing mother.  After retiring, I found I was still in demand as a consultant and have found this a wonderful way to continue to do the work I enjoy on my own terms.

 What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Without a doubt, that would be the two years of unremitting engagement from 1980-1982 in Canadian women’s successful struggle to ensure that our first constitution - initiated under the Trudeau government – would include ironclad guarantees of equality for Canadian women.  This was a national grassroots action coordinated by members of NACSW and its affiliates even though the organization itself was unable to become formally involved when the battle was at its peak.  The highlights of this story are well captured in Penney Kome’s book "The Taking of 28".

And your biggest mistake?
Too many to mention.

What are your ambitions now?
I’m really quite happy with where I am in life right now – physically active, free to travel, rejoicing in a wonderful partnership after years as a solo, reconnecting with relatives and friends all over the world, including those from Keele days.  More of the same would be just fine!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field? 
As a government executive, I worked twelve hour days, six days a week for years.  For the most part, the work was rewarding and fun, but I would now think twice about accepting that heavy a workload.  Also, if  joining a large organization – government or private sector – one should be aware that the path upward is not a straight line but a spiral.  Finally, although a specific qualification might get you in the door of an organization, in my view, the number one workplace skill that contributes to upward mobility is getting along with and influencing/leading others.  Numbers two and three would be written and oral communication. 

Rosemary Billings 1967 What made you choose Keele University?
I had intended to follow family footsteps and attend Queen’s University.  My parents, however, decided to move to Germany from Canada.  The registrar at Queen’s was an old family friend and recommended that I go to Keele for the Foundation Year (FY) and then transfer to Queen’s.  She said it would be easier to do this from Keele than from other UK universities owing to the FY.  So that’s what happened except I stayed on at Keele for the full four years.

What kind of a student were you?
Frantically poor and absolutely hopeless in the discussion groups and seminars.  I made up for this by going into hermit mode in final year, reviewing all the prior year exams, and making sure that I could answer any question that had come up in the past.  Unbelievably, this slacker strategy worked.

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Sunday afternoon teas in someone’s residence room listening to My Word, Round the Horn, etc.  Dancing in the Uni, and Tony Flew’s brilliant philosophy lectures and seminars. 

What is your impression of Keele now?
I haven’t been back to Keele since graduating.  My impression, however, is that it is much more focussed on equipping students for “careers” than in the past.  In my time, I think the goal was to produce well-educated citizens with keen social consciences.  I’m hoping the scales are not tilting too far.  I’ve been impressed by the current active outreach to attract foreign students and stay in touch with alumni abroad, and particularly delighted that Canada was included as a stop in this year’s North American tour.