Photo courtesy of Queen's Gazette

Queen’s University is reflecting on the life and generosity of Dr. Isabel Bader as the arts champion and staunch supporter of the school died on Sunday, August 28 in Milwaukee.

On Monday morning, Queen’s University published a tribute to Dr. Bader, who was 95 years old.

Dr. Bader and her late husband Alfred were known as a couple as the largest benefactors to Queen’s University, most notably for their donations of The Bader Collection of art, a castle in England, and a centre for the performing arts in Kingston all for the use of the University.

Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane said the school has been very lucky to have remained an important piece of Bader’s life for so long.

“Queen’s was very fortunate to have been one of Isabel’s priorities,” said Deane. 

“She was so proud to be able to support the new home for The Bader Collection and the revitalization of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, and until the end of her life maintained a fond and active interest in Bader College at Herstmonceux Castle, its community, and its promise.”

While a graduate of the University of Toronto herself, Bader had long been a supporter of Queen’s University and specifically its arts, music, and theatre programs, personally creating several bursaries for students in these fields of study.

Tim Fort, professor Emeritus with the Dan School of Drama and Music, says that unlike some benefactors at different institutions Bader was truly, passionately involved with Queen’s and determined to make the arts accessible to all, particularly women.

Fort said she was extremely bright and cable, but also constantly humble about her role and contributions.

“She was one of my favourite people because she was fun-loving, warm hearted and a really lovely, lovely person,” Fort said.

“She always asked to be called Isabel, not Dr. Bader or anything like that… when she could see that things needed more resources, she found a way to do it.”

Fort says most obviously among her contributions, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts has “untold implications” on Queen’s potential as an arts institution.

He says it’s fitting that the building has come to be known most often simply as “The Isabel”, and her impact will be felt at Queen’s most abundantly through that space.

“Although it has a longer name, everybody only refers to it as ‘The Isabel’,” Fort said.

“I think that’s a great legacy right there. All the things that she’s enabled through both her own enthusiasm and her resources targeted so well.”

Karen Bertrand, Vice Principal – Advancement, was on her way to Bader’s funeral on Monday and said she and her traveling party have been fondly reminiscing on their memories with Dr. Bader.

Bertrand said that Bader was a determined force in pushing for what she wanted and felt was needed, but was by nature a humble and gentle person.

“It is fair to say that she was this really extraordinary combination of what I would characterize as fierce determination and gentle humility,” Bertrand said.

“You saw it in how she conducted herself, you saw it in the kind of philanthropy that she selected, and you saw it in the wide diversity of people that she engaged with.”

Those who knew Dr. Bader through her work at Queen’s said she was a passionate supporter of underserved communities in the arts and believed the arts had the capacity to change lives.

Dr. Tricia Baldwin, Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts, said that in recent years Bader took a keen interest in supporting Indigenous expression in the arts.

“She was especially excited about Indigenous programming,” Baldwin said.

“This, for her, was a creative breath of fresh air that put the spotlight on tremendously talented Indigenous artists and art forms that had been so unjustly suppressed in the past.”

As an unwavering supporter of both social justice and the arts, Dr. Bader is touted for her efforts in conserving historical collections and understanding the value they can help to play in shaping perspectives.

Isabel Bader was predeceased by her husband Alfred in 2018, and is survived by her stepsons Daniel and David, brother Clifford Overton, and extended family.

Funeral services will take place on Tuesday in Milwaukee at 1PM CST, with several Queen’s employees travelling to attend.

Isabel Bader’s namesake – The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts