In 1991, Marian Robson was B.C.’s public affairs manager for Canadian National. She had already distinguished herself as a trailblazer in an industry predominantly occupied by men. In the same year, with a resume that included years of exemplary public service in the innermost circles of the federal government, Marian forged another step along that path when she became a Member of the Terminal City Club – one of the first group of six women leaders to do so.
Jump forward some 30 years, and today this remarkable leader has now been approved as President of the TCC Board of Directors for 2022. Her Vice President is Julia Yan, and this marks the first time in the club’s history that women have occupied the two most august seats on the board.
Marian grew up in the prairie town of Biggar, Saskatchewan — renowned for its slogan “New York is big, but this is Biggar.” Her father was a doctor and her mother a teacher. After high school, Marian attended the University of Saskatchewan where she received her BA in English. She loved literature, and English just felt like the right direction. But she also loved politics, so when it came time to consider her master’s degree, she chose political science.
“In 1967, there were seven of us in the program,” she recalls. “The Liberal convention in Ottawa was approaching and Pierre Trudeau was running as a leadership candidate. Of course, I was gaga over Trudeau, so I spoke with two of my profs and convinced them that me going to the convention would be a fantastic poly-sci experience.” At the convention, she met Otto Lang. The following year in the federal election she worked on the “Send Otto to Ottawa” team which led to Lang’s upset victory in the riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt.
After the ’68 election, Robson left Saskatchewan politics and moved to the Northwest Territories to work on her thesis: The Evolution to Provincial Status of the NWT. “In retrospect, I must have been smoking something because it wasn’t close to being a reality.” She got a job with the Centennial Center, NWT Government and never finished her thesis.
In 1970, Lang called. He was now the Minister of the Canadian Wheat Board and he wanted Marian on his personal staff as Special Assistant. Throughout his years in Cabinet, as he assumed different portfolios from Manpower, Citizenship and Immigration, to Justice, Marian remained a constant. When he became Transport Minister, she became his Industry Liaison Assistant, a job she held for about a year and a half.
In 1976 Marian moved to Vancouver to marry her late husband, Michael, a forest industry executive. She was quickly hired by BC Rail as Corporate Secretary. In 1981 Marian was appointed Chair of the Vancouver Port Corporation and was a member of the Ports Canada Board. Following her time with the port, Marian became Manager, Public Affairs for CN in BC.
In 1996, Marian was named Chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency. The CTA is the body responsible for administering economic regulatory provisions of all modes of transport under federal jurisdiction. Her 10 years in this job solidified her reputation as a significant player in the history of the Canadian transportation landscape. “My second term ended in 2006, I returned home from Ottawa, and I felt this real lack of identity,” she says. “I threw myself into board work to stay busy, stay connected. I’m now involved in so many things I don’t feel retired at all. The only difference in my life is I’m working for no money.”
Today, Marian is Chair of the Pacific Chapter of the Chartered Institute Logistics and Transport North America (CILTNA); and a member of the national board; she is also a member of the Regional Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (RTI) of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade; plus, she is on the board of her church, and, of course, the TCC.
“I anticipate a lot of work this year with the club, so perhaps I will have to let go of some other responsibilities.” Marian is the club’s third president to work under the storm cloud of the Covid pandemic. “In terms of a theme for the year ahead, I plan to focus on the appreciation and recognition of human capital during these difficult times. Under leadership of the General Manager and successive Presidents, the management, staff and board members have done an incredible job over the past two difficult years.” Marian will also oversee completion of renovations to the Grill and the Grill kitchen, as well as repairs to the outdoor patios.
“I also know we have an exciting opportunity to continue to partner with EasyPark to create an outdoor dining space in the park beside the club. As well, we will be looking at developing an increase in workspace that can be rented by the hour, the day, the week. Offices are closing, but people still need a place to work. The TCC needs to put itself in an optimal position to take advantage of these transformative times.”