Meet Jean Franklin Hancher: Teacher, lawyer, PhD student and pilot






Welcome to the second podcast in the Encore Career Series on I’m pleased to be talking to Jean Franklin Hancher. Long past the age when most people have retired Jean is completing her PhD. in Women’s Studies at York University after careers as an elementary school teacher in Dryden, Ontario; on the executive staff of the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO); and, working in her own practice as an employment lawyer

In her “spare time,” Jean qualified for a private pilot license and she is currently co-owner of a Cessna 172, four-seater, single engine plane. She and her flying partner have flown all over North America, with their most recent expedition to Cochrane Ontario to see polar bears.

Welcome Jean!

Hi Sheryl

Q: Jean, most people have one maybe two careers in their life-time but you are on your fourth. With your experience of over three decades as a teacher and with the FWTAO what kinds of upgrading did you do over those years?

A: When I started teaching, Sheryl, elementary teachers in Ontario weren’t required to have a university degree. So each summer for many years I usually was at a university somewhere taking an eclectic variety of courses. I eventually graduated, on paper, from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

Q: After you left teaching and joined the FWTAO, you had a great job, so why did you decide to go to law school in 1988?

A: Well the FWTAO collective agreement allowed me to take an approved, paid sabbatical leave after about 10 years. I initially intended to take the supervisory officer’s certificate training program with the Ministry of Education but when that didn’t work out, I decided to apply to law school instead.

Q: You were accepted at Osgoode Hall?

A: Yes, and several other schools, but Osgoode at York made the most sense since my home was in Toronto and I really loved Osgoode’s diverse culture.

Q: You had a one year sabbatical. How did you complete the last two years of law school after your sabbatical ended?

A: Early on in my first year of law school, we started constitutional law and the Charter was very new. I realized that I really enjoyed the law and wanted to continue. I negotiated with my board of directors for an additional two years unpaid leave of absence with a guaranteed return to work. I was very fortunate that the staff collective agreement covered my benefits and gave a professional development allowance which practically covered my law school tuition.

Q: You finished law school, you went back to work and you never intended to practice law. Yet, a year later you got another four month leave of absence to write the bar exams. Then you went back to work again. What changed? Why did you leave the Federation?

A: Well, the Law Society was considering changes to the articling and Bar Admission requirements and I was concerned that if I didn’t complete the process I might have to re-qualify in future. Then I got a letter from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Board that I was eligible for early retirement and an unreduced pension, so I decided to retire so that I could find an articling position.


Q: So at 55 you were called to the bar and you were collecting a teacher’s pension. Why did you decide to start your own law practice?

A: I had been home after a very long and stressful articling year, but I received a telephone message one day when I was out. The message was from a former client that I had had when I articled at the federal Department of Justice who left a message saying “Jean, you must have a law office by now! I need a divorce, could you represent me?”

Well, I didn’t have an office. I didn’t have any thoughts of practicing law but that was just the catalyst I needed. I immediately called my close law school friends who encouraged me to come out to Guelph where they were just opening new offices and there was a spare room in the building. So I went out looked at it and literally over that weekend made the decision that I would hang up my shingle.

Q: That’s really incredible! So you practiced law for six years in Guelph and then you closed your office. Why didn’t you continue working as a lawyer after all that preparation?

A: Being a teacher at heart I was pretty used to the cycle of school starting in September and ending in June followed by holiday and starting fresh again in September. Of course, a sole practitioner is literally on call 24 hours a day. And between the commute and the fact that my mother had progressive dementia, it became apparent to me that it was time to close my office.

Q: Yet a year or two later you enrolled in PhD. program in Women’s Studies at York University. Why weren’t you content to stay home?

A: (Laughs) I think my friends realize that I’m not a great housekeeper. Mostly I like being out with people and learning new things. I went to hear Doris Anderson speak at a program at York where a scholarship was being dedicated in her name and I was totally inspired. By the time I had applied and was accepted for a PhD. in Women’s Studies I knew I wanted to write my dissertation on the FWTAO and the litigation which led to its demise, which I was particularly qualified to do because of my legal training.

 Q: Do you have a goal as to when you’d like to graduate?

A: Oh my goodness, yes, but it is a shifting goal. Realistically I’d like to think that in a year from now I will be finished.

Q: That is very exciting! In addition to your fascinating academic and business careers you have also been a pilot and owned a succession of three airplanes with your friend over the last thirty years. What motivated you to take up flying?

A: Well it was love at first flight! When I was sixteen years old I entered a contest and as a prize I won a trip to New York City for a week. The sights of New York, of course, were very interesting but it was the flight down there and back that totally fascinated me. I came back and arranged flying lessons but my parents refused to drive me to the nearest airport and said I had to save my money for school. So I didn’t end up learning to fly until much later when I was on my own.

 Q: Tell us about your most recent adventure in flying to Cochrane to see polar bears

A: I belong to an international organization of women pilots started by Amelia Earhart. It’s an all women organization of pilots called the “The Ninety-Nines.” Our local chapter in the Toronto area each year plans a rally and a destination where we will fly.

Often times these events are in Canada but we’ve also ventured into the United States and we’ve gone as far west as Calgary and east to Newfoundland. No matter where we go, it is the planning and the actual getting there that is most interesting to the pilots.

This year, since we had never gone straight north, we decided to go see some polar bears near Cochrane. There were about nine planes and 21 women pilots in all. We had a great time!


Q: That’s really neat. So you are not working as a lawyer anymore, but you are serving on the executive of the Women Lawyers Forum of the Ontario Bar Association. What motivates you to stay so active in the profession and to keep trying new things?

A: Well, I am a teacher at heart and I believe that a good teacher is a person who enjoys learning. As a life-long learner I just felt the need to keep in close contact with sister-lawyers and learn about new developments in law and the profession.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

A: I think I would try to get more sleep. Lately, I’ve been realizing how important getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night is not only for growing kids but seniors like me. Law school must have cut my requirements in half.

Q: It sure doesn’t seem to have had any negative effects. What advice do you have for someone who is retired or approaching retirement and is thinking of making a career change?

A: Think about it carefully. Try to stay really healthy. And I’ll just pass on some advice that a professor of women’s studies once gave me. If you think that you are interested in a topic that you are going to make the subject of your dissertation, make sure you have a passion for it. Because 10 years from now when you’re still writing your thesis, it’s going to be pretty tough going if you no longer love the subject.

So be passionate about what you do whether it’s growing roses, cooking, or volunteering. Just throw yourself into and enjoy!

Thank you so much Jean it has been a real pleasure to chat with you today.

Thank you, Sheryl.jeantrophy

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