Stella Higgins

Stella Higgins
Stella owns a pristine copy of the Torch, Issue 1

Lighting the Torch  

“I always say my university education was disrupted by Hitler,” says Stella Higgins, in her lilting Scottish accent. World War II put pay to her plans to attend university in Glasgow, but 75 years later, she is closely connected to a different alma mater, in Canada. After moving here with her Canadian aircrew husband, Stella was among the first women to study for a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Victoria. She later completed a Master’s in History in 1972. “And I’m still working on it,” Stella adds, talking about her education.

Life-long learning

After graduating, Stella worked as a research assistant for professor emeritus and renowned military historian Reg Roy and has since spent many years researching and writing on military topics.

“Aristotle said, ‘education is the best provision for the journey to old age.’ You learn a lot, but you realize what you have learned is infinitesimal. I have done things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing without my education. I’m going to be 95 in October, and I’m still writing.”

Keep the flame burning

Stella volunteered with the Alumni Association for many years. As President of the Editorial Committee, she was one of the pioneers who lit the flame of the Torch, the university’s 35-year-old alumni publication. The publication took its name from the flaming torch held aloft by a hand at the top of the coat of arms of the university.

Stella still has her copy of the first issue from 1981, which shares news from the blossoming university and its alumni. Early articles celebrate some of the association’s fundraising projects for student financial aid, computerized archives for the library, and construction costs for the Phoenix Theatre, Interfaith Chapel and Alumni Chip Trail.  The publication’s tight budget was supplemented by subscriptions. “The Torch must not be extinguished by lack of funds! Keep the flame burning!” she reminded readers in one of her columns. It’s still around today.

A stellar supporter

Time isn’t all Stella’s given to UVic. She made her first donation over 40 years ago in honour of her former history professor who created a bursary to help students. “I figured I got so much out of being at the university, I’ve sent a cheque each year ever since,” she says. 

She has also supported the Military Oral History Endowment, which helps students take part in the Veteran’s Oral History Project. Stella feels passionately about sharing war-time stories of bravery and tragedy, including her own. As she wrote in her article, Memories of English wartime goodbyes, published in the Times Colonist in 2015:

“I knew I had been fortunate in those five months to live among brave young men, to listen to their chatter and to feel some of the tension they must have experienced on those dark nights alone for hours flying over water.”

Look out for the publication of Stella’s next project, a memoir, to be published before her 100th birthday.

The Torch page 21