The ripple effect of one caring teacher, 37 years later

Barb Binder and Mary Ann Geoghegan


“You were bound to be successful, Barbara” Mary Ann Geoghegan quipped after meeting her former student, Barbara Bidner, after more than 37 years in Woodstock, Ontario on March 15, 2018.

Mary Ann, a former Fanshawe faculty member, taught in the Legal Secretarial program from the 1970's to her retirement in 1984.


Barbara was one of Mary Ann’s students in the early 1980's and never forgot the feisty, feminist professor who told her that she could be anything she wanted, and encouraged her to attend law school.


Barbara loved learning about law at the time and remembers thinking that “I’m not just going to type it, I want to draft it.” Mary Ann was the perfect person to encourage her dreams, telling her there were no limits and to keep going. Of course, this was a time when there were very few women becoming lawyers. Women were often told they had to choose between their career or being a mother. Barbara went against the grain, graduating from Fanshawe in 1980 from the Legal Secretarial program and moving on to Western University where she earned her undergraduate degree and her law degree at the University of Windsor. She was called to the Bar in 1989 and practiced law for 28 years.


Why is Barbara back at Fanshawe teaching the next generation of law clerks? She will tell you it is because of Mary Ann. The caring attitude that Mary Ann showed Barbara all those years ago has left an undeniable imprint on her life and teaching philosophy. When Barbara is in the classroom or helping a student, she often thinks to herself, “What would Mary Ann do?”


It is this philosophy that has also inspired Barbara, coordinator of Fanshawe’s Law Clerk program, to create a new Award in honour of her former teacher. The Mary Ann Geoghegan Law Clerk Award will be given out for the first time this fall to a second-year law clerk student who demonstrates a caring attitude and dedication to the Law Clerk profession. It is a fitting tribute to the teacher who took the time to encourage students to be the best they could be and to tell them how wonderful they are. Barbara says, “It is the little things that you do, to show you care, that could make a big impact in a student’s life. You may never know what impact you have had, but that is why I teach. Mary Ann taught me that.” 


What is Mary Ann’s message to students today? “Dream big. Your aspirations are really important. You are the only impediment to what you want to do.” Mary Ann’s own dreams included earning two Masters’ degrees, one in economics and one in education. She certainly continues to be an inspiration to all of us.


Have you thought about honouring someone with an Award in their name? Contact the Fanshawe Foundation at 519-452-4112 or to start a conversation.