Milne migrated to Canada at 17 with $20 to her name
She pushes boundaries on a daily basis, boundaries of personal excellence and also those set by the society’s prejudices.
Noella Milne, the new chancellor of George Brown College (GBC), began her journey when she came to Canada from Mumbai at the age of 17, all by herself, with $20 to her name.
“My parents could not afford to send me money. So I used to send money home to my mother,” said Milne, who regards her mother as her most influential mentor.
The prominent lawyer and philanthropist, known for her outstanding contributions to Canadian society and youths, will begin her three-year term as the GBC chancellor on May 3.
Milne has a 15-year connection with GBC, serving consecutive terms on its board of governors and its foundation’s board.
She completed a term as chair of the GBC Foundation board, a body that raises funds for disadvantaged students.
Montreal was the first city Milne lived in. She worked during days and took classes at night to pursue a college diploma, and then a university degree in law.
“I lived very far way, so I had to take three buses to get home. I used to get home at midnight every night and then get up very early to go to work the next day. I worked full time, and went to school four nights a week,” she said.
Her first job was working as an assistant for a professor of engineering at McGill University. She then moved to a travel agency in Ottawa for five years after doing one-year diploma relating to the field.
Milne stresses that education is the biggest game changer in one’s life.
Whenever she takes a taxi and comes across young drivers she encourages them to further their education. She often carries GBC’s continuing education brochures, which she offers to them as well.
As an immigrant woman from India, Milne has had to overcome prejudice on a daily basis. But that never slowed her down.
“When I would walk into a meeting room at the law firm in the early days, people would think of me as the assistant, they wouldn’t believe that I was the lawyer. Back then, clients used to think a young woman would not be able to negotiate as fiercely as a guy,” Milne said.
She said a number of firms declined to hire her because they did not accommodate working mother.
Milne also added that there were not many young women immigrants who were lawyers back then.
“I always felt awkward going into a board room, always thinking that they would think I’m bringing in the coffee,” she recalled.
When she became the president of the Canadian Club, she had similar experiences. She often noticed a little bit of surprise when she was introduced to the speakers. “You can feel very self-conscious because of that,” she said.
The incoming chancellor loves talking to people, particularly students. She is eager to visit the different GBC campuses to engage with students.
“I would love to do ‘Meet the chancellor’ kind of visits,” she said.
Milne was appointed to the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest honour, in 2011 for outstanding achievement in law and philanthropy.