Twenty-third Governor General of Canada, and the first woman to hold the office. Born April 26, 1922, died January 26, 1993; served from May 14, 1984 to January 29, 1990.
Jeanne-Mathilde Benoît was born in Prud'homme, Saskatchewan, to a contractor and a teacher, the fifth of seven children. When she was a toddler, her family moved to Ottawa, Ontario, so the kids could be educated in French. After graduating from a convent school, Jeanne made her way through school at the University of Ottawa by working as a translator by day and taking classes in the evenings.
As a student, she became national president of a group called the Jeunesse étudiante catholique, a reformist student organization that challenged established Catholic doctrine; in that position, she travelled across the country and met Canadians from coast to coast.
Not only that, but she met her future husband, Maurice Sauvé, whom she married in 1948. They moved to Britain so he could study at the London School of Economics, and then to Paris, where Jeanne worked for the United Nations as assistant to the director of youth issues at UNESCO.
The Sauvés came back to Canada in 1952, whereupon Jeanne went to work as a television and radio journalist, largely for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Société Radio-Canada, the English- and French-language arms of the Canada's public broadcasting company.
She was a raging success. Smart, well-travelled, fluently bilingual, opinionated yet always gracious, she was part of the same vigorous generation of French-speaking intellectuals in Canada that included such titans as Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque. She hosted public-affairs shows and wrote an array of columns for the French-language La Presse and the English Montreal Star.
In 1959, she and Maurice had their one child, a son named Jean-François.
Maurice served briefly as a Member of Parliament and junior cabinet minister in the Liberal government of Lester Pearson, but it was Jeanne who was to be the real star. She ran for Parliament in 1972, the second time Pierre Trudeau led the Liberals into an election, and was elected in the north Montreal riding of Ahuntsic, though Trudeau's majority shrunk to a minority.
Trudeau made Sauvé minister of state for science and technology, one notch below a full cabinet minister but the first woman from Quebec to sit at the cabinet table (Ellen Fairclough, of Ontario, was the first female federal cabinet minister, appointed by John Diefenbaker in 1957).
The Liberals won their majority back two years later, and Sauvé became environment minister, then minister of communications, handling both the government's public relations projects and strategies and its relations with other French-speaking countries.
It was in 1980, however, that Sauvé began seriously to vault into the national spotlight. After a short Progressive Conservative interregnum, Trudeau was re-elected to a final term as prime minister and got Sauvé elected (by the Liberal MPs he controlled) the first female Speaker of the House of Commons.
She presided during a raucous time, with tensions running high over the patriation of the Canadian constitution (which involved hugely acrimonious debates among the federal government and the provinces over how Canada would take control of its constitution from the British parliament) and a referendum in Quebec on separating from Canada.
As Governor General
She handled the assignment skillfully and in 1983, Trudeau handed Sauvé a new honour: she became Canada's first female Governor General.
Sauvé succeeded Ed Schreyer, a former populist premier of Manitoba, in the post. The job demands few things from those who hold it, but it demands those things in abundance: dignity, grace, politesse and endurance. Sauvé had them all. Perhaps a little much on the dignity front -- she made a hugely unpopular decision to close the 79-acre Governor General's estate at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa, to public visits, and stuck by it despite the enormous pressure Ottawans and parliamentarians put on her to change her mind. Much of the estate is a landscaped park of grassy fields and shady trees in summer and toboggan runs and a skating rink in winter, and the locals were quite peeved at having it taken away from them.
That gaffe aside, Sauvé brought most everything to the job that could have been asked of her, and when she retired at the end of her six-year term, most were very sorry to see her go.
After she left Ottawa for Montreal, she started the Fondation Jeanne Sauvé, a group that organizes meetings of youth leaders from around the world.
Jeanne Sauvé died in 1993.