Tribute to an outstanding president and trailblazer for women
The work of our beloved member Yvette Swan was tireless, determined and persistent as she continued to make a difference in the lives of women and girls.
A retired optometrist, she was born in Jamaica then moved with her husband, Malcolm, in 1970 to Bermuda, where she worked to improve the status of women and girls.
Dr Swan was a charter member of the Business and Professional Women’s Association of Bermuda. She served as president of the BPWA from 1989 to 1993 and represented the BPWA at international meetings in Hong Kong and Washington, to name a few.
She is the only woman of colour to be elected as the international president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. Dr Swan was instrumental in starting a School of Nursing in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. She also worked with the women in Kenya, so that the Masai women could attend the Nairobi School of Agriculture and learn how to care for their cattle. She also served as the president of the International Project 5-0, an organisation that combined five women organisations, all having consultative status with the United Nations.
She has addressed the United Nation Commission on the Status of Women several times. She was appointed a senator and became a Cabinet minister under the United Bermuda Party government in 1995, having the portfolios of Minister of Community and Culture, Minister of Women’s Issues and Minister of Government and Community.
Dr Swan represented the Bermuda Government at the Fifth Women’s World Conference in Beijing, China, the World Conference on Women with Disabilities, and was head of delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in1998 in Mauritius, as well as the CPA Small Island Conference, and the CPA Women’s Conference, which were held on the same site.
She was a member of the Bermuda Women’s Advisory Council. Dr Swan was a member of the team that created the Community School in Bermuda, president of the Gilbert Institute PTA, a member of the Board of Governors at Warwick Academy, membership chairwoman of the Warwick Academy Association, chairwoman of the Board of Governors of Hope Homes for the Mentally Handicap, president of the Mentally Handicapped Association. She was also a past member of the Continental Society, the Bermuda Chapter of the Royal Commonwealth Association, a member of the board of the Bermuda Academy of Music, and a board member of the Bermuda School of Music.
She has been honoured in many ways, including Yvette Swan Day in Richmond, California, on January 24, 1992, life member of the Kanu Mandeleo Ya Wanawake of Kenya, and of BPWA, and many business and professional women’s organisations around the world. She was honoured by the International Federation of Business and Professional Women when she received the Lena Madesin Phillips Award for work done to improve the status of women all over the world. This is the highest award given by the organisation.
Recently, Dr Swan was pastor to the Nashwaak Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada.
Her lifelong legacy is too much to mention in this tribute, but may we remember this beautiful champion and feel blessed to have benefited from her pursuits.
Dr Swan passed in Moncton, New Brunswick. She was fortunate to have her husband by her side during her last hours. We extend our condolences to her husband, Malcolm, her sons, Brian, Dene and Dane, and their families. Dr Swan will be missed by her family, friends and sisters in BPWA Bermuda.
The Business and Professional Women’s Association is an international organisation with a rich history paved by Dame Marjorie Bean, who led the way for the founding and chartering of the Bermuda chapter of Business and Professional Women’s Association in 1976, providing Bermudian women an international platform.
During the 1970s and 1980s, BPWA Bermuda, was integral in creating Bermuda’s Human Rights Act, laws and commission, the Department of Community Affairs, women’s commissions and boards, and annual participation in United Nations summits.
The BPWA and its membership have been fundamental in leadership development, participation in the United Nations Conference and international resources. Our members are seated on varied committees such as agriculture, technology, finance and health. This creates pathways for young leadership with Young Business and Professional Women, which has given young professionals opportunities to engage in important sessions and finding real world solutions.
The existing president is entrepreneur Surlena Smith, having taken office in 2019. Mrs Smith’s main initiative is to multiply membership and keep the legacy of BPWA Bermuda strong. As we commemorate an outstanding member and past president, we would like to honour the path that all our members have paved for the citizens of Bermuda and ask that you assist in keeping these legacies alive.
• Surlena Smith is the president of the Business and Professional Women’s Association of Bermuda