Described as a “do-it-yourself kid” by her friend Frances Goodspeed, Mary Lillian Boyd [BSc (Hons.)/42, MSc/43] parlayed her resourcefulness into a long career as a government scientist. Starting out at a time when few women pursued a degree in science, Boyd majored in chemistry at the University of Manitoba, and was the lone woman to graduate from fifth year science in 1942. Boyd quickly got her master’s degree the year after and went on to earn her PhD from McGill University before starting at Energy, Mines and Resources, now Natural Resources Canada, in Ottawa.
One of the only women in the federal department, Boyd met Goodspeed and a friendship spanning six decades was formed. “There weren’t many women working as researchers in those days,” says Goodspeed. “I worked in the gas and oil lab and later doing infrared spectroscopy in the same group as Mary who was a bitumen researcher.”
Goodspeed describes Boyd as honourable, devoted to her family, proud of her accomplishments, yet humble. She was active in various women’s groups of the Anglican Church and travelled extensively with her sister to Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Boyd pursued her career with quiet determination and was very organized about her finances. She passed away in 2010, and left a substantial bequest to the University of Manitoba with $1.272 million going to the Faculty of Science Endowment Fund.
Boyd’s generous gift will have a tremendous effect on science education for future generations. The endowment fund supports new equipment purchases. Jamie Galka, who teaches biochemistry, says that because of the fund and the generosity of donors like Boyd, students have access to modern equipment that is the norm in research and hospital labs across the country.
Galka was able to purchase six UV-Vis spectrophotometers that can scan biomolecules in ultra-violet and visible light, and more than 100 pipettes that enable students to do their work in a fraction of the time and with much more precision and accuracy. The old spectrophotometers only worked with visible light while the old pipettes didn’t measure liquid volume as precisely. “The old spectrophotometers were good at doing a specific job, but these new ones do all that and extra,” says Galka. “These are tools that students will absolutely have to know how to use wherever their careers take them.”
“I can’t overstate the difference in what students could do with the old equipment compared to what they will be able to do with the new equipment,” he adds.