Iona Victoria Campagnolo was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on October 18, 1932 to Rosamond and Kenneth Hardy.
Campagnolo launched her life of active political and community involvement in the mid-1960s. She was elected to the Prince Rupert School Board in 1966 and served for six years as school trustee, chairman of the board, and north coast zone chairman of the board. Upon completion of her term on the School Board, she ran and won in the Prince Rupert civic election, serving as an alderman/city councilor until 1974. Also during this period (1965-1974), Campagnolo worked for CHTK Radio, Skeena Broadcasters Ltd., as both advertising sales director and as a broadcaster. As well, she served as producer, director, and costume designer for many performances of the North Pacific Players (a Prince Rupert theatre company) that also included her involvement in several community theatre performances.
Beginning in 1974 Iona Campagnolo entered federal politics when she was elected as a Liberal in the riding of Skeena. This resulted in her becoming a part of Pierre Trudeau's governing Liberals, first as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (1974-1976) and then being appointed to Cabinet as Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport (September 14, 1976 to May 22, 1979).
Following her defeat in the May 1979 federal election, Campagnolo spent two years (1979-1981) as host of a prime time feature interview program on the CBC, from Vancouver, entitled “One of a Kind” and at the same time acted as a special consultant to Simon Fraser University. The focus of Campagnolo's activities now increasingly began to reflect international affairs and initiatives. In 1980, she took a position as a consultant on public relations and fundraising with CUSO-VSO, (then known only as CUSO or the Canadian University Services Overseas Organization) and in this capacity Campagnolo undertook a large number of speaking engagements particularly in support of refugee re-development, with emphasis on Thai-Kampuchean Border refugees. After spearheading the raising of funds for this particular campaign, she continued to work on various other campaigns on behalf of CUSO until 1990. Concurrently, she was also a special projects consultant to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). During the first three months of 1981, she completed an assignment by the Secretary of State for External Affairs, to organize the founding and incorporation of the “Future’s Secretariat,” with the aim of creating a series of community task forces and network linkages at the local level that could raise the consciousness of Canadians to the interdependent nature of the world and Canada’s role and responsibility to the world.
On November 7, 1982 Iona Campagnolo was elected President of the Liberal Party of Canada. Campagnolo would last run for public office in the September 1984 federal election in the North Vancouver-Burnaby riding, but lost. In the aftermath of the Liberals defeat and subsequent resignation of leader John Turner, she served as national co-chair of the Liberal Leadership Convention, and at the June 1984 convention was also re-elected to the office of President of the Liberal Party. She continued as President of the Liberal Party until November 27, 1986.
From 1986 to 1996, Campagnolo worked on contract with Contemporary Communications for the National Speakers Bureau that led to her writing and delivering speeches across the country to many organizations. This contract permitted her to pursue several other opportunities to promote Canada and to encourage education and international human rights. At the start of this period she was a consultant to the Calgary Olympic Development Association, assisting them with their bid for the 1988 Winter Olympics through her personal contacts with members of the international sport community, including presenting Calgary’s bid to IOC (International Olympic Committee) members in Africa and Europe. This work was followed in 1987 to 1990 Campagnolo becoming an associate director working towards the establishment and development of the McMaster University Centre for International Health. In 1992, she was involved with the establishment and development of a new university in northern British Columbia - the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George and ultimately on May 23, 1992 she was appointed the founding Chancellor of the University. Beginning in 1995 Campagnolo became first a director (1995-1996) and then chair (1996-1997) of the Fraser Basin Management Program (FBMP) which worked towards bringing together all four orders of Canadian government (federal, provincial, municipal and First Nations) to address some of the key river management issues that were identified by Fraser River Action Plan - a part of Canada’s Green Plan. Additionally she has been a director of such non-governmental organizations as the Canadian Crafts Council (1985-1990), North-South Institute (1991-1994, serving as chair 1993-1994), the Southern Africa Education Trust (1987-1992), Project Angola (1987-1992), International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (1994-2000), and Arctic Institute of North America (1996-2000).
On September 21, 2001, Iona Campagnolo was appointed by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to be British Columbia’s first female Lieutenant Governor; a position in which she served until September 30, 2007 when she was succeeded by Stephen Point. She subsequently moved to Comox, British Columbia, with plans to continue work to promote human rights and other causes. These activities have included working with a Collaborative Watershed Management initiative and serving in a number of honorary positions including as patron of the Centre for Child Honouring headed by children's advocate Raffi Cavoukian; the British Columbia Iris Society and the Bamfield Music Festival; and honorary director of Vancouver's celebration of the Canadian Naval Centennial, as well as acting as a facilitator for the Simon Fraser University Salmon Summit.
Over the years Iona Campagnolo received several awards and honours, including B.C. Broadcaster of the Year (1973), Member of the Order of Canada (1973), Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (1992), Order of British Columbia (1998), Dame of the Order of St. John (2001), Officer of the Order in Canada (2008), Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), Justice Institute Medal; in addition she holds honorary doctorates from Simon Fraser University (1995), Brock University (1997), University of Northern British Columbia (1999), University of Victoria (2007), University of British Columbia (2009), Trent University (2009), Royal Roads University (2010); and has been bestowed two aboriginal names Notz-whe-Neah and Saan-naag-Kaawaass from the Tsimpsean and Haida nations respectively.
On August 9, 1952 Iona married (and later divorced) Louis Campagnolo, and together they had two daughters.