Wootton Scholarship in Law

Robert Alexander Burnie Wootton (1901-1982)

Few families have been as strongly associated with the practice of law in Victoria and on the mainland as the Wootton family.  For almost a century, three generations of Woottons have practiced law in this province, as well as serving the community by sitting on various boards or by holding public office.  The Wootton Scholarship in Law was created by an endowment from Robert Wootton in 1976, and the history of this man illustrates this dedication to the legal profession.

The son of Edward Ernest Wootton, a Barrister and Solicitor in Victoria who had been called to the bar in 1888, Robert was born in 1901.  His mother, Frances Amelia (nee Smith), was a teacher, and Robert's education started early in a small day school.  He then attended Boys' Central School, graduating from the newly built Victoria High School.  Three of his brothers served overseas in the First World War. Robert became associated with the Boy Scouts and, because many young men were serving in military organizations, was made a scout master at an unusually early age.  His older brother received the Military Cross for Valour, but also received a serious wound and returned to Victoria unable to resume helping his father at the office.  Robert was asked to help out, and in 1918 he was articled to his father and commenced a five-year course.

He was called to the Bar in 1924 and practiced with his father in the firm Wootton and Wootton until the start of the Second World War.  Too young to serve in the first war, he now found himself too old to fight overseas.  He served in British Columbia in the Royal Canadian Artillery and also, in 1940-41, was President of the Men's Canada Club.  After his service in the Artillery, Robert returned to Victoria where, two years after his father's death in 1944, he joined Roy Manzer in the firm Heisterman, Manzer & Wootton.

This was a period of participation in the community for Robert.  He succeeded his father as Registrar of the Anglican Synod of B.C., a position he held until 1961.  Having done work for the provincial and federal Conservative parties, Robert became active in politics in 1945 as a councilor for the Municipality of Oak Bay.  He became Reeve (the equivalent of Mayor) of Oak Bay two years later, an achievement of which he was very proud:  "No greater tribute could be paid to a citizen than election to civic office by fellow citizens."  This period saw him involved in 16 different voluntary organizations, including the Jubilee Hospital Board of Directors as chairman.  About 1950 he also served as president of the Victoria Bar Association, four years later serving as vice-president of the Canadian Bar Association for B.C.

In 1954 his daughter Anna Frances was called to the Bar and she joined him in the firm Manzer & Wootton.  About this time he also became Bencher of the Law Society, a position he held for eight years until he was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1961.  He served as a judge in the Supreme Court for 15 years, retiring in 1976.  During this time he also acted as a member of the University of Victoria Foundation and chaired the Royal Commission on Automobile Insurance.

When he died in 1982 at the age of 81, a funeral service was held for him at Christ Church Cathedral, as well as a memorial service at the law courts.  An article in The Advocate described him thus: "Bob Wootton's life was one of service to others: his family and friends, his clients, his country, his community, his church and political opinions - which were conservative in the true and best sense of that often misunderstood word.  He graced the bench with courtesy, dignity and tolerance."

Two taped interviews with the Honourable Robert Wootton concerning his family background and experiences as a lawyer and Supreme Court Judge are available at the Law library at the University of Victoria.

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