Constance Isherwood started law school the same year the first Polaroid camera went on sale.
It was 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, the United Nations created the World Health Organization and Israel was declared an independent state. The 98-year-old has seen her industry and the world change drastically over 67 years in the business, but her clients have been seeing the same face for generations.
”Sometimes grandchildren come in to deal with some legal matter and it just happens they have never met their grandparents because death intervened or distance or something,” Isherwood said. “So I am able to tell them something about their grandparents.”
Isherwood was born in 1920, in Nanaimo, B.C. to a forrest ranger father and a stay-at-home mother. The Model T Ford was one of the best selling vehicles and the United States had just passed Prohibition, outlawing the production and consumption of alcohol.
After touring as a drummer with all woman band Eight Gorgeous Girls, she got a job as a law firm secretary in her twenties, but after a few years she decided she wanted to be a lawyer at the firm instead. At 28 years old, while many other women at that time were getting married and starting a family, she started law school.
“In our law class there were about 200 men and we started off with eight women, and six graduated in the year 1951,” she said. “So we were somewhat outnumbered…. The fact that it was male dominated, didn’t bother me very much.”
When she was called to the bar in 1951, she worked on mortgages on pen and paper, charging approximately $10, for houses that routinely sold for $10,000 to $15,000. Today similar work would would cost approximately $500 at the Victoria law firm Holmes and Isherwood she started with her late husband in 1964.
In the almost 100 years she has been alive, Isherwood said technology has changed at a rapid pace. Electric typewriters were just being introduced when she started practicing, but discrimination against women “hasn’t changed too much.”
Despite this, her accolades continue to grow. In 2015 she received an honourary doctorate from UBC where she graduated more than 67 years ago. In 2016, at 96, she became the first woman to received the lifetime achievement award from the Law Society of B.C.
Now an Otter Point resident and still serving hundreds of clients at her Victoria firm, she doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.
“One person did say ‘you can’t retire until I die and you take care of my estate’,” she said. “So I am sticking around for a while.”