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Zwozdesky honoured posthumously

May 28, 2019 Jen Janzen, ATA News Staff

Christine Zwozdesky (left), widow of former education minister Gene Zwozdesky, accepts
an honorary membership awarded posthumously to Zwozdesky, who died in January 2019
after a battle with cancer.

Learn everything, because no one can ever take away your education.

It was Gene Zwozdesky’s favourite aphorism, and it was also the way he lived, said his wife Christine Zwozdesky.

Zwozdesky’s passion for education was recognized at the Annual Representative Assembly as he was posthumously awarded the Association’s Public Education Award.

“Like many of you as educators, he inspired many students,” Christine told the delegates as she accepted the award on Zwozdesky’s behalf.

Zwozdesky died Jan. 6 after a short battle with cancer. He was 70.

First elected to the legislature in 1993, Zwozdesky was education minister from 2004 to 2005. Although his time in the post was brief, he immediately focused on relationship-building between the ministry and the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

President Greg Jeffery said the political climate of the time was fraught with challenges: the first teachers’ strike in decades had occurred in 2002, class sizes were growing, more standardized testing was being considered and there was a continued threat to remove principals from the ATA.

By the end of 2003, said Jeffery, it seemed there would be no way to reconcile the differences between Alberta Education and the ATA.

“Then along came Gene,” Jeffery said.

Zwozdesky’s own teaching experience (as well as teaching high school in Edmonton, he was a long-time Ukrainian language and dancing instructor) gave him “a fundamental understanding of the complexity of the education system,” Jeffery said.

“But more importantly,” he added, “[Zwozdesky] had a profound respect for the work of teachers.”

“Gene was a musician, a dancer, a tireless volunteer, an entrepreneur and a politician, but he was first and last a teacher.”

Zwozdesky’s background and continuous involvement in the arts inspired him to advocate for a new arts curriculum. He also created the High School Completion Strategic Framework.

After accepting the award, Christine Zwozdesky said, although her husband left the classroom in the early 1990s, teaching was still important to him.

“Every facet of his life continued to involve teaching in some way,” she said, whether he was serving on a committee for multicultural identity or teaching his grandchildren to count in several languages.

She thanked the Association for recognizing her husband.

“Gene would be honoured and humbled to be remembered in this way by his peers,” she said.

It’s a fitting award for such a widely influential person, said Jeffery.

“Gene was a musician, a dancer, a tireless volunteer, an entrepreneur and a politician, but he was first and last a teacher. Gene’s legacy to the teachers of this province lives on today, and his impact will be felt for years to come.” ❚

Gene Zwozdesky

Quick facts

  • Received bachelor’s degrees in arts and education from the University of Alberta
  • Taught at Victoria Composite High School and Balwin Junior High, both located in Edmonton
  • Worked as a teacher, administrator, professional musician and business owner
  • Executive director of the Alberta Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Alberta Ukrainian-Canadian Centennial Commission, and music director for the Shumka Dancers and Cheremosh Dancers
  • Elected as Liberal MLA in 1993; crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in 1998
  • Held ministerial posts in health and wellness, Aboriginal relations, education, and community development
  • Served as speaker from 2012 to 2015
  • Defeated in the 2015 provincial election by the NDP’s Denise Woollard 


Twitter reaction

Dave Hancock @DaveHancockPCJ
It was nice to see Gene Zwodezky so admirably honoured at #ARA2019, a beautiful soul that was an active Albertan, father, husband and teacher.

ECTLocal54Preident @SFEsposito
A wonderful tribute — ATA Public Education Award to a great man — former min. of education, speaker of the house, Shumka dancer, musician, band teacher, honorary chief of two nations, and always a teacher!

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