Photo provided by Laura Sheppard

A new memorial bursary will honour alumnus John Sheppard and provide a “leg up” for law students

After her husband John Sheppard (LLB’51) had passed in 2019 and his estate had been distributed, Laura Sheppard knew that she wanted to honour her husband.

By Sarah Trefiak

Laura shared, “Establishing an award at his alma mater was the best thing I could think of to honour him, as they say—and I guess this is kind of a cliché—but it was to create a living thing so it could continue to do something useful.”

Sheppard donated $135,000 to set up a memorial bursary that will provide financial support to one continuing law student who intends to practice general law working with low to mid-income clients. Special consideration will be given to those with a background in military, police, first response or the health-care industry. 

John was born in 1924 in Southey, Sask. His father died when John was just nine years old, and he was raised by his mother. 

“She mostly cleaned,” said Sheppard. “And she would walk across Wascana Lake in 40 below weather from the legislature where she cleaned to their home by the Regina General Hospital, to save the five cents to buy a loaf of yesterday’s bread rather than taking the bus.” 

John’s mother also insisted he finish high school before he went off to war. During the Second World War he served as part of the Royal Canadian Artillery (2nd Canadian Infantry, B Troop) with fellow alumnus and life-long friend, Howard Boyce (LLB’50). 

“Howard and John met in elementary,” explained Sheppard. “Howard’s father had taken John under his wing when John’s dad died. Then they went through high school, the war and law school together.” 

After John returned from the war, the Department of Veteran Affairs offered to pay for his post-secondary schooling. Following in Boyce’s footsteps, John decided to apply to the College of Law. 

Sheppard said John often recalled many fond memories of his time in law school. One story that he often told involved the historic rivalry between engineering and law.  

“The lawyers at that time all had bowler hats,” explained Sheppard. “But John was one of the few students who had one. Well one day the engineers decided to get a hold of these hats and crush them in one of their machines. But just as John was going to lose his hat, a friend drove by, he threw his hat into the car, and we still have John’s bowler hat to this day.” 

John went on to practice for more than 30 years in Regina and Fort Qu’Appelle. The firm Sheppard, Braun, Muma in Regina still bears his name. 

“I mean, I’m biased, but I’ve been told by other people, he could have worked for one of the big oil companies in Calgary, he could have had a really good job with the government, he could have joined a big law firm,” said Sheppard. 

But Sheppard said John just liked people and he did not forget where he came from. And that was part of the reason he liked to go out to Fort Qu’Appelle, a smaller community where he also practiced.

For many years John also served as a member of the Canadian reserve army, becoming a Colonel, and earning CD (Canada Decorated) status for his service.

A few years before his passing, John visited the College of Law and was delighted to spend some time talking with the dean and touring the law school. 

Martin Phillipson, dean of the college, remembers the meeting well. 

“John was such a pleasant man that took a real interest in the College of Law and our students.  We’re just so pleased that Laura has established this bursary to honour John and his commitment to helping the people in his community,” said Phillipson. 

Laura says she hopes that the recipient of this award knows that John was a believer that it is the little things in life that count the most. It is also her wish that the recipients of this award live to be ‘good people.’ 

“Because John was a good person and he saw himself as surrounded by good people,” she said. “It would mean a great deal to John if someone who needed it got a ‘leg up’.” 

Sheppard went on to explain that “leg up” is a farming-based idiom that comes from the idea of helping someone to mount a horse. 

“If the horse were too high, another person would help the rider get off the ground—help them get a ‘leg up.’” 

That concept, and the fact that John always marvelled at the fact that a farm boy from a poor family became a lawyer, was what motivated Sheppard to establish the award. 

“I miss my John so terribly, terribly much,” said Laura, choking back tears. “I couldn’t think of a better way to honour him than to give back to the University of Saskatchewan and the College of Law.” 

The first bursary was awarded to a law student in need in the spring of 2022.