ST. PETERSBURG — When unions and employers butt heads, it's always the warring factions that grab the headlines: A-Rod and Major League Baseball; Scott Walker and the teachers; Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controllers.
But sometimes, the person hired to settle high-profile standoffs also rises to prominence. Such was the case with Frances Bairstow, a highly regarded arbitrator in Canada and the United States.
In the mid-1980s, when 3,300 Air Canada flight attendants were threatening to strike over wages, staffing levels and sick leave, Canada's labor minister appointed Mrs. Bairstow to broker an agreement. She played similarly central roles arbitrating disputes involving railroad workers, teachers and hospital workers. Her reputation for fairness followed her to Florida, where her rulings got a disgraced Oakland Park vice cop his job back and upheld Disney World's decision to fire a pot-smoking Donald Duck.
Mrs. Bairstow, who stood at the center of numerous crises, died Sept. 15, of pneumonia. She was 93.
"She was respected by everybody in the field," said Allen Ponak, an emeritus professor at the University of Calgary and a former student of Mrs. Bairstow's. "She helped build the field."
In an occupation dominated by male lawyers, the industrial relations professor at McGill University was a barrier breaker. Among other highlights in a notable career, she had served as an economist for the Senate Labor Management Committee and other congressional boards.
In 1972, she was admitted into the exclusive National Academy of Arbitrators, becoming only the fourth woman to do so. She would later become a founding member of the Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution.
Frances Lillian Kanevsky was born in Racine, Wis., in 1920, the daughter of the local chair of the International Typographer's Union.
She used her speedy typing skills to put herself through the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a Fulbright scholarship. She joined McGill University in 1960; from 1970 to 1985, she directed the school's Industrial Relations Centre.
David Bairstow, a documentary filmmaker and Mrs. Bairstow's husband, died in 1985. She retired from McGill and moved to Sand Key that year. She enjoyed cruises, and would sign up for any Trivial Pursuit tournament.
Ten years ago, Mrs. Bairstow moved to the senior community Allegro, and was active in the foreign policy interest group of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College. She continued handling arbitration cases, retiring in 2010 on her 90th birthday.
Mrs. Bairstow had been in declining health the past year and a half. In recent weeks, her family said, she insisted that doctors not artificially prolong her life.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.