A religious pioneer and predictor of change who mentored and encouraged hundreds of women in academia and the priesthood, Dr. McWilliam tallied several milestones: She was the first woman to earn a doctorate in theology from the University of Toronto's St. Michael's College; the first ordained woman to receive tenure on the divinity faculty at U of T's Trinity College; and the first Canadian woman elected president of the American Theological Society.
She was recalled as a warm, self-effacing woman, but serious about many things: teaching, her church and advancing the cause of women, both in her field and beyond. Her son, Gonzalo Duarte, recalled a T-shirt his mother bought him in 1977 bearing the words: "Men of quality are not threatened by women for equality." It was a message she carried and heeded throughout her life.
Dr. McWilliam became a deacon in the Anglican Church in 1987, the year she married Peter Slater, an Anglican priest and fellow theologian, and was ordained a priest the next year, at the age of 60. For one thing, she felt it was important for female students to have a female priest on the faculty.
An optimist, she felt the global Anglican communion will weather its spasm over homosexuality and avoid schism. She cited examples of other threats to unity - slavery and the place of women - that failed to split the church.
Health conscious before it was fashionable, she ingested plain yogurt and chicken livers for breakfast. But a regular tipple of sherry was never turned aside. Minutes after doctors informed her that her cancer was untreatable, she asked her daughter Leslie to drop by for a glass, reasoning that "there's no point allowing life to go completely to the dogs."