Fostering a passion for public policy
After more than 20 years, the scholarship that bears Gerry Godsoe’s name continues to inspire the next generation at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law.
By Emma Sutro
A pre-eminent lawyer, advisor and scholar, the late J. Gerald “Gerry” Godsoe (LLB’68) was a giant in the political and legal landscape — perhaps best known for his work as the Executive Director of the Macdonald Commission, which ushered in a new era for the Canadian economy through free, unrestricted trade with the United States. Nevertheless, he spent much of his professional life dedicated to public service in his home province of Nova Scotia.
“Gerry believed in his duty to use his training in the law to serve the social and public good, and his work was always focused in that area, whether locally or nationally,” says his wife, Dale Godsoe (BA’65, BEd’66, MEd’87).
Gerry’s passing in 1996 was felt acutely not only by Dale and their daughters Suzanne (LLB’97, MD’04), Stacey and Laura, but throughout the legal community. Dale and many of Gerry’s former colleagues came together soon after to establish the J. Gerald Godsoe Scholarship in Law at Dalhousie, with the aim of carrying on his remarkable legacy and to support aspiring lawyers who express an interest in public policy.
“As a lawyer, mentor and father, he was always focused on fostering intellectual curiosity, the ability to question the status quo, and the ability to articulate a compelling case for change,” says Dale. “The idea of supporting brilliant students to foster those skills would have appealed greatly to him.”
Impacting the student experience
Among the many students supported by the J. Gerald Godsoe Scholarship in Law are recent recipients Essie Mehina and Madlyn O’Brien.
Mehina embarked on her legal career in an unexpected way: after completing her PhD in neuroscience at the University of Victoria in 2021, she realized that she couldn’t see herself in that field long term. After attending a session hosted by Bereskin & Parr LLP centred around alternative paths for people with PhDs, she says she realized that the law was an area she was excited to explore in greater detail.
“It was a whole new perspective on what I could do with my degree and with my interests,” says Mehina. “I could study law and take the things that I loved about science and translate that into a career — one where I can still have one foot in the science field but move forward in a way that was more meaningful for me and in a way that I could have more impact on my community.”
O’Brien says her desire to study law was ignited at a much earlier age. The first-year law student says she remembers watching her sister Kelly (JD’18) study for the LSATs and successfully apply to the Schulich School of Law. As early as the eighth grade, the younger O’Brien was taking her sister’s LSAT textbooks to school to practise questions with her friends.
After completing her undergraduate degree at Cape Breton University, O’Brien was offered a position working on Parliament Hill with her local Member of Parliament. There, she witnessed the small- and large-scale effects of public policy.
“The experience of working in Parliament changed my interest in law and public policy to more of a ground-level focus, to what is affecting people every single day,” says O’Brien. “In my position, I was dealing one-on-one with constituents and with many of the immediate concerns faced by people.”
Carrying on Gerry’s legacy
For Mehina, receiving the J. Gerald Godsoe Scholarship in Law in her first year, and then being renewed for her second, gave her an academic freedom that may not have been possible otherwise.
“It’s almost impossible to speak to the extent which this scholarship has had such a meaningful impact on me, especially as a mature student,” Mehina says. “It has really been vital to allowing me to focus on my studies and to take on new opportunities. For example, I’m on the policy and outreach committee with the Dalhousie Student Advocacy Society, and I don’t think I could have pursued that absent of the support of the J. Gerald Godsoe Scholarship in Law.”
When O’Brien found out that she had received the scholarship, she also received a personal call from Cape Breton University President David Dingwall (BCom’74, LLB’79), who had known Gerry through the legal profession.
“That really gave me a personal connection not just to the financial aspect of the award, but also to the namesake,” O’Brien recalls. “Receiving this scholarship really made me feel recognized and gave me a sense of belonging at the law school.”
Both students will be spending this summer working at law firms and are looking ahead to their careers in the legal world — paths that have been impacted by Gerry’s legacy.