She was born in Wawanesa, Manitoba, and worked as a schoolteacher in Saskatoon before marrying John Diefenbaker in 1929. Outgoing and vivacious, with a genuine concern for others, Edna was an exceptionally popular teacher.
A political wife
Her marriage brought an end to her teaching career, and Edna devoted her energies to the advancement of Diefenbaker's political career. She would visit towns before her husband so that he was prepared with information on the inhabitants. Edna also edited Diefenbaker's speeches, and often acted as chauffeur, driving him to meetings. Perhaps most importantly, Edna helped John to overcome his shyness and develop into a gregarious "man of the people", which would factor greatly in his future political successes.
Upon Diefenbaker's election as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Edna worked tirelessly on his behalf, in an unpaid capacity. She was a constant presence in the visitor's gallery in the Canadian House of Commons, and was crucial in establishing close relationships between John and reporters in the Ottawa press gallery.
She died of leukemia in 1951, predeceasing her husband's first term as prime minister. MPs in the Canadian House of Commons gave her "unprecedented eulogies" for a non-MP. Diefenbaker later married Olive Palmer, his wife during his term as Prime Minister. Edna is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery beside Diefenbaker's mother Mary, his father, brother and an uncle.
In 1982, Edna became the focus of Simma Holt's book The Other Mrs. Diefenbaker, which, among other things, described Edna being subject to shock therapy, and also made disobliging comments about the character of John Diefenbaker; it is noted that the author was a former Liberal Member of Parliament. Author Heather Robertson also wrote on her and other spouses of the Prime Ministers of Canada in the book More Than a Rose (1991).
- "DIEFENBAKER, JOHN GEORGE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, Library and Archives Canada, URL accessed 5 January 2007.
- Jim Romahn, "Author paints colorful portrait of PMs, their wives and lovers," Kitchener – Waterloo Record, Kitchener, Ontario: November 16, 1991. pg. E.8.
- Denis Smith, Rogue Tory: The Life and Legend of John G. Diefenbaker. Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1995, pp. 111–112.
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