Few think of the United Nations (UN) without associating it with a sense of goodwill. For Linda Taylor, BA’76, LLB’79, it also evokes emotions about Canada shining on the international stage. “I think every young Canadian of my generation went through a phase of wanting to work for the UN,” she says. “We grew up on stories of Lester B. Pearson and Canadians proudly wearing the blue helmets while serving as peacekeepers.” So it was no surprise that when an opportunity to join the UN presented itself, she started living the dream.
Taylor went from private practice in downtown Calgary to the legal department of a major UN organization in one of the most fascinating areas in the world. “My first post was in Gaza as a lawyer with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East,” she says. “It was a life-changing experience to live and work in a different culture and a pressure-cooker environment.” She had to adapt to working with people not only from different countries and customs, but also from different legal systems. Despite this, or perhaps because of the challenges, she made lifelong friends and also got to observe key political developments unfold firsthand.
Taylor has since spent the past decade serving in various capacities for the UN, and is now a principal officer in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General in New York—a post she’s held for over three years. As the Secretary-General is the chief administrative officer of the UN, Taylor’s duties include providing legal advice and support, representing the Secretary-General in mediation proceedings and liaising with UN departments and offices. Her job also involves travelling internationally with the Secretary-General to countries as varied as Afghanistan, Myanmar and Kiribati.
And yet Taylor’s worldly experiences stem from rather modest roots. She was one of the first graduates of the University of Calgary’s then freshly minted Faculty of Law. “It was a very special experience,” she recalls. “Everyone was excited to be part of this new and innovative law school. It was a small class and there was no one ahead of us to show us the ropes, so we bonded quickly. We supported one another in law school and that has continued in practice.”
Her initial interest in law was triggered in junior high school as a result of several social studies teachers who sparked an abiding interest in current events and politics. At that time, she didn’t really know what lawyers did, but law seemed to offer entry into politics. “I noticed that many politicians were lawyers and decided that I would study law as a stepping stone into politics. That changed with my first moot court exercise, in first-year constitutional law. I loved the challenge and adrenaline rush of advocacy and decided on the spot that I wanted to become a civil litigator, which I did.”
Through her work at the UN, Taylor has come full circle—perfectly combining her passion for the law and international politics.