Hilary Weston 26th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Founder, The Hilary M. Weston Foundation for Youth and Former 26th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
When it comes to expression — the transmittance of ideas, emotions and dreams — few mediums are as universally beloved and all-pervasive as the ever-expanding field of art. More than any other industry, art has become something to be treasured and revered throughout history. Almost anything that displays or demands an intense mastery is said to transcend into an art form, after all, and ingenious words are said to paint a picture. It is a love of art that has partially defined Hilary Weston’s life. And, much like a work of art, Weston’s avid philanthropy, strategic business sense and genuine love of life have created a legacy that will reap happiness and wonderment for generations to come.
It began, as these things tend to do, in a busy hub of fashion and culture. Hilary Weston, then Hilary Frayne, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Her youth was a vibrant one full of culture, reading, and eventually a deep love of fashion and art. She toured much of the world with family friend Sybil Connolly, acting as both model and muse. It was while working as a fashion model that she met Galen Weston, her future husband, and the two were wed in England just a few short years later. She worked with him to create what would eventually be known as the Primark brand, something that they essentially raised from the ashes of a floundering store in Ireland. Today, it is one of the most successful retailers in Europe, and Weston credits her time spent modelling for Connolly as the reason for her intense love of fashion, stating that “it was through that experience … that I began to truly appreciate the design process as well as the dedicated precision of the tailors and seamstresses of the day.”
While the above alone would count as a significant achievement in anyone’s lifetime, the Westons quickly moved on to even bigger things. In the early 1970s, they moved to Toronto, a place their entire family seems happy to call home. Weston notes that “I arrived in Canada when my baby daughter Alannah was only six weeks old. I had no idea then that I would still be living here for over 40 years. Canada is a wonderful place to bring up children and even though they have been partially educated in America and England they’re inherently proud of their Canadian heritage.” Truly, her family is a worldly one that is sometimes lovingly referred to as the “Royal Family of Canada.” It should be noted, of course, that it is not the wealth that makes the family so endearing to the country, but rather the good that they’ve brought to the area — and Weston in particular has been responsible for bringing quite a bit of attention to public service.
“During my term I travelled from one end of the province to the other … it was a great joy for me to connect with those communities”
Weston’s public service and community improvement efforts began shortly after arriving in Canada. In 1979, she founded what is known as the Ireland Fund of Canada, a non-denominational and non-partisan organization that worked to promote peace in Ireland. She also served the Mabin School as its founding chair, and she co-founded the Canadian Environment Educational Foundation as well as chairing its activities.
On January 24, 1997, Weston was named the 26th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. She worked as a representative of the queen in Ontario, and as such was responsible for the Crown’s representation as well as constitutional roles in the area. Weston’s time as Lieutenant Governor was a fruitful one that saw the philanthropist bring attention to groups and causes relating to youth, volunteers and women’s issues. Much of the current awareness around community public service in these areas is the result of Hilary’s efforts, which were exhaustive. She even donated her annual salary while in office in order to help create job training and business internships through First Connection for 88 students while also working to help better the plight of homeless children living on the streets. In 1998, Weston created an award known as the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteer Award to call attention to community leaders that worked tirelessly for their causes. The award was later expanded to recognize outstanding volunteers of the student variety in Ontario secondary schools. Weston held the position until March 7, 2002, and says about her time in office that “it was a great honour to be appointed Lieutenant Governor of the province of Ontario. During my term I visited nearly every single constituency and I travelled from one end of the province to the other … it was a great joy for me to connect with those communities and to be received with open arms.”
Weston continued her philanthropic work after exiting office, and has been awarded a number of honours and honorary degrees throughout her time in Canada. She received the honour to serve as the first Chancellor of what is known as the Order of Ontario in 2001, and worked as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2003. She has also been recognized by a number of post-secondary institutions around the world, and continues to raise awareness of the importance of public service even today.
photo by Chris Nicholls