Honorary Colonel Kathleen LeGrow retiring after 14 years with 37 Service Battalion

Article / October 1, 2019 / Project number: 19-0177

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador — Honorary Colonel Kathleen LeGrow has been a leader in her civilian life – a life filled with philanthropic work that has been recognized nationally (she was named to the Order of Canada in 2005), provincially (the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2018), and locally (an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Memorial University in 2014).  

HCol LeGrow’s work life has followed a similar path. She left a career in social work after 15 years to run the family business, a successful chain of travel agencies, at a time when women were often not taken seriously in the boardroom.

It is no wonder then that she has been effective in her 14 years as Honorary Colonel of 37 Service Battalion, an Army Reserve unit with components in both her hometown of St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador and St. John, New Brunswick.

HCol LeGrow will retire from the role in late October 2019 and kindly agreed to share her thoughts on her experience.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q1: How was the idea of being an honorary first presented to you?

Well, my Dad was Honorary Colonel of 37 Service Battalion. When we were organizing his funeral, I was asked if I would like to have an honour guard and I thought that would be nice because he had a long history with the military. He served as a Naval officer during the Second World War. He was in that part of the service that escorted the merchant Marine back and forth across the North Atlantic.

And I had served as a Naval Reservist late in my high school and early university days. When I saw my male colleagues having their university paid for I asked if this could happen for me as well but they didn't pay women back in the day. In my early beginnings as a feminist, I made a decision that I wouldn't participate anymore, so I served my three years and got out.

When the Commanding Officer of the unit asked me if I would be interested in taking the HCol role on, I found out there were very few women that were honorary colonels and I said I would indeed be interested.

Q2: What have been the greatest rewards?

Well, I've had a pretty successful life and I've been recognized and awarded for a number of different things I've done, but in terms of volunteering, this is the thing that I've enjoyed the most. I've had a good run at it. I've been doing this for 14 years now, which is a very long time for an honorary.

My unit would be happy to have me continue – and I would be too – but it really is time for somebody else and I am moving on in October.

Q3: How has your longevity as an Honorary Colonel impacted your relationship with the soldiers?

I have had tremendous respect from the soldiers and I think part of that comes from my involvement and making an effort to get to know them, to get to know the lingo, getting to know how to salute, making an effort to be a reviewing officer. They appreciate that. But also reaching out and hopefully touching some of their lives.

We have soldiers who have been deployed, so connecting with their families to make sure they're doing okay. Soldiers who have lost loved ones and supporting them through that, soldiers who have been sick. Recognizing soldiers that have made very heroic efforts to achieve certain levels in their military careers. There are all kinds of things.

Q4: In broad terms, the role of the Honorary Colonel is to be a voice or advocate for the unit. How have you approached that task?

Well, it takes a while to understand. It takes building up a relationship with the command team. And as you are aware, the command team changes – there is turnover. And that impacts the relationship.

And as these changes happened within the unit, I began to see myself as someone who kind of carried the history and the culture of the unit a little bit. I was probably as much a mainstay as some of the older serving officers.

And there were other challenges during the course of my tenure: in 2010 our unit was split – half is here in St. John's, Newfoundland and the other half in St. John, New Brunswick. And as much as I try and stay in touch with the other side in New Brunswick, it is quite a challenge.

When these things happen outside of the military environment and you see there really is no other recourse, you accept it and move on. I saw that as part of my role at the time: let's get on with it.

Q5: As a feminist, how do you feel about the Army’s progress in terms of equality?

I'm very proud of Operation HONOUR even though we're certainly still being challenged by these issues. It's taking society a long time to adjust to a new way of thinking and I think that some of these issues are more deeply embedded in the military. I know many older serving female soldiers who have gone along to get along, if you know what I mean.

In my lifetime, I have functioned in a man's world and there was a lot of being the only woman in a roomful of men who just didn't want to hear what I had to say.

There's not as much of that now and that's a good thing. It's nice to be able to stand your ground and feel you deserve to be respected and that you don't have to tolerate that kind of behaviour.

Q6: What are some of your fondest memories of serving?

I have so many I don't even know where to start.

I've been to a survival camp so I know how to use a chainsaw now, although I don't think I can be trusted with one [laughs]. I've been to Fort Pickett in Virginia with my unit. I've been to just about every exercise in Gagetown.

I've been to Wainwright when they were preparing troops to go over to Afghanistan. I was invited to jump out of an airplane but my children objected so I didn't do that. I've toured NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

Where else would you get these opportunities? This has opened a whole other world for me and I’ve worn my uniform proudly.

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