1965 International work

I arrived back from St. Stephens N.B., on Saturday, 5 June 1965, just in time to prepare to travel to Frankfurt for ICN meetings 10 June to 1July. What a flurry of activity! Meetings with staff, the Canadian Council on Nutrition, CNF Selection Committee, etc. Also important, of course, was assembling my wardrobe for the many working and entertainment functions. I certainly remember the hat I wore for the trip to Frankfurt as were taken as Isobel MacLeod and I boarded the plane. It was an extremely large black hat –about 12 inches high –with massive black flowers adorning the crown. There was plenty of room for a bullet to pass through the crown of that hat without it touching a hair on my head.

On arrival, we began on Saturday with ICN briefings. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, there were meetings of the Board of Directors. As was often the case, we strategized with our U.K. and U.S. colleagues. At the Board meeting, the CNA President issued an invitation to hold the 1969 ICN Congress in Canada. Mexico had lobbied hard for the Congress and, I must confess, I was hopeful that they would be successful. The invitations were, of course, put before the Grand Council.

At the opening ceremony in Frankfurt, after each speech by a dignitary, a grand symphony orchestra would play a beautiful rendition. It was magnificent. The music breaks also gave one a chance to catch ones breath amongst all the pomp and ceremony.

A number of critical international issues were discussed at this meeting. These are well documented in Sheila Quinn’s ICN publication.

One of the highlights for Canada, at the Grand Council, was the election of Alice Girard as the first Canadian ICN President. Even though she was the only nominee, it was necessary to follow the elaborate ICN voting procedure where each country, one by one, approached the podium to have their credentials checked. They were then handed a ballot and voted. The whole process took almost two hours. When ballots were tallied, Alice Girard was proclaimed President. It was then my duty to dash over to the communications center and first telephone, then cable, the news to Canada. That took another one and one-half hours as there was some confusion finding the country code as Canada was, of course, spelled Kanada in Switzerland. The next day, the vote was taken on the site for the 1969 Congress. Canada won by a wide margin. Then and there, the CNA president asked that I remain on staff until after the Congress.

I agreed and, later, my appointment was confirmed by the CNA Board.

President of CNA, Louise Miner, at international meeting

The next week (20-26 June) was chock full of plenary sessions with many relaxing activities running concurrently. One great day was Sunday, 20 June, when we went sailing on the Rhine. The Canadian delegates were in the lead ship with the Federal Republic of Germany’s President, Ruth Elster. Three other ships followed carrying Congress registrants –about 8,000 nurses in all! What a glorious day. When we reached the Lorelei, I was deeply moved. All during our stay, we had watched the boats sailing up and down the Rhine, with entire families on board hanging out washing, etc. It was a real “working river”.

On Monday, 28 June, 200 Board of Directors and council members were urged to accept the invitation of the West German government to visit Berlin. We were airlifted to Berlin where a very full program of activities had been arranged. It was very political. In Berlin, we were loaded into a bus and, after a short ride; we stood facing a high wall and armed soldiers. It was THE Berlin Wall. Afterwards, we were taken to see a church in the center of Berlin “The Wilhelm” which, except for its stained glass windows, had been completely destroyed by “the enemy”. The enemy was us, we were told frequently by the East Germans. They were both sad and belligerent. Then it was on to the great new hospital where we were told that a special musical concert had been prepared for us. I looked so forward to hearing Mahler, Bach etc, but, when we arrived and the choir of two rows of “interestingly uniformed” nurses began to sing, guess what? Their selection was not Mahler or Bach but “Vot shall ve do mit a dronken sailor?” That was the choir’s only English song, for which I was very grateful.

Following the concert, a tour of the hospital began. Isobel and I decided to skip the tour and found our way to a side door in the hopes of finding a cab to take us back to our hotel. We had hardly left the hospital when a young nurse came after us. She understood no English. Over and over. I tried to explain what we wanted to do but to no avail. She insisted on returning us to the hospital –and I kept saying “nein”. She won the argument.

On my return to CNA, the month of July was a hectic time of trying to catch up on the backlog of work, meeting with staff: meeting with the architect regarding our new headquarters and getting my life in order to be ready to travel to Antigua 28 days later to continue the Caribbean project.

Commonwealth Medical Conference – Edinburgh, 1-14 October, 1965

The day Dr. B. Layton telephoned to ask if I would become a member of the Canadian Government delegation to the First Commonwealth Medical Conference was a pleasant interlude in a continuous, intensive round of work as CNA Executive Director. I was invited to participate because of one item on the agenda –“Nursing Education in the Commonwealth”.

What an exciting professional and personal assignment! I worked long and hard to complete CNA assignments and be ready for this long, overseas project. When finally on my way, I was overjoyed to be seated in a quiet First Class seat –alone. I ate well and sampled many different spiritus frumenti offered. After dinner, I was given blankets and pillows and quickly dropped off into a deep sleep. During my slumber, I could occasionally discern incomprehensible conversation in the aisle but paid no attention. Next thing I knew, I woke alone in a foreign land.

It was frightening! The airplane was on the tarmac, away from the air terminal, and not one other passenger remained on board, Bravely, I rose from my seat and went to the flight deck. The captain said that we had to remain until he could get “some juice” to start the plane. Less fearful but still perplexed, I realized that I was so very thirsty. The Captain asked me to return to my seat and, presently, he brought me some wilted grapes –which tasted like ambrosia. In response to my query, I was advised that we were at Shannon Airport.

Eventually, we got “some juice” and taxied to the terminal where we were cheered by some passengers, although most were still occupied in buying duty-free items. Then, it was on to London — late. At long last, I caught my connecting flight to Edinburgh. On arrival — very late — two gentlemen greeted me at the foot of the aircraft stairs. They wore morning suits -wow!

I was escorted to the VIP Lounge where counters on four sides were loaded with every type of food and drink imaginable – including real caviar! My escorts begged me to at least have some shortbread or haggis –or a scotch or? I simply could not rise to the occasion.

Without a doubt, the Commonwealth Medical Conference was one of the most elaborate and elegant international conferences I ever attended –and well organized too. Our working environment was always bedecked with the most fantastic floral arrangements. The committee room, which seated about 50 persons around a square table arrangement, did not have a gaping, vacant area in the centre of the room. That space was always filled to the limit with huge masses of oversized chrysanthemums, orchids, roses and other exotic blooms.

Our delegation head was Judy LaMarsh – replaced after day two by Dr. John Crawford. Dr. Crawford was 6 foot 4 inches in height and a gentleman of the old school. The other members of our delegation were three doctors who brought their wives along (the wives did not like me) and three others who were not accompanied: Dr. Jack McCreary; Dr. Basil Layton (who had proposed my name as the conference was to discuss the education of nurses); and myself.

Canada was assigned a meeting room at the Conference. The six of us gathered there the first morning and chatted a bit. Dr. Crawford had been assigned, by Dr. Layton, to look after our delegation. He handed us a list of events and told us we could attend whichever meetings we wished -except that I must attend those relating to nursing education. In all of the delegations, there were only two nurses in attendance -Dossieh Kisseh of Ghana and me. Also in the meeting room each morning were our invitations for the day. Wow! There were six to eight receptions held each evening and our great decision of the day was how many receptions we would attend before dinner and how many after dinner.

The three of us (Dr. McCreary, Dr. Layton and I) usually went to the receptions together and thus used only one car and driver. As a matter of courtesy, these social events were compulsory and, after almost 10 days, one became rather exhausted by the social round – not to mention gorged with food!

Dr. Layton, as head of the Canadian delegation, was required to attend meetings to draft the final communiqué. He asked me to attend with him, as an advisor. I was seated directly behind him and was, I believe, very helpful on some matters.

The second morning of the conference, most members of our “working” delegation were absent and not to be found. I was irritated when I learned that they had each taken their cars and drivers that day and had gone sightseeing or shopping with their wives. Other delegations were holding planning meetings each morning to ensure that all important conference sessions were covered. I suggested to Dr. Layton that Canada should get organized as well. To my surprise, he left the organization of our delegation to me! I wrote notes to the Canadian delegates advising that they should meet in the Canada briefing room at 9 A.M. daily to receive instructions. Each morning, I met with Dr. Layton before 9 A.M. to make assignments. So, each day, as each delegate arrived, I handed out their assignment and asked for a brief note on their daily findings. They complied –almost like small boys –and were diligent with their assignments.

Our last meeting in that room is a precious memory. Someone had bought a pseudo medal from a “five and dime” store and attached to the “medal” was a citation for the “Medal of the Order of the Eager Beaver”, I was deeply touched. I kept that medal for many years and have given it, along with my service medals, to the CNA Archives.

The entertainment and social events for the entire Commonwealth group was spectacular. I had seen Edinburgh Castle before but never with all the accoutrements — Highland dancing, haggis, music and all the other facets of Scottish hospitality. When it was time for the Canadian delegates to leave, we would spot Dr. Crawford, whose six feet four inches made him tower above the crowd. Together, we would wait at the gate for our cars to arrive. It was stirring to hear “Canada” shouted out as a limousine, with Canadian flag flying, stopped for us. I did like all of that.

On Sunday, a glorious, sunny day, we were taken, by bus, all the way to Stirling Castle. What a sight! We were greeted, again, with food, flowers and entertainment. What glorious scenery … what great days!

The day before, Saturday, we had had the afternoon free and three of us were taken, via the Canadian limousine, for a four-hour tour of the Scottish countryside. I remember so well the Firth of Forth Bridge and I recited, with great glee, the poem about the Inchcape Rock.

Perhaps the most memorable reception I attended was the one at Holyrood Castle. Our Conference was the very first in the history of Holyrood to use the Castle without the presence of a member of the Royal Family. I saved my fanciest and fluffiest gown – a pale jade chiffon –to wear that night and it looked great. I remember feeling uneasy going down to the hotel lobby that evening, as I had been receiving notes from a man in one of the Commonwealth delegations who wanted to meet me. He did not identify himself in the notes so I showed to notes to Dr. Layton, and he and Dr. McCreary said they would keep an eye on me that night. As I left the hotel, the “three Canadian wives”, who were seated in the lobby, glared at me. One of them had used my car and driver that afternoon and, when Dr. Layton told her she did not have the authority to use the car for shopping she told him that she had as much right as Dr. Mussallem. I suppose Dr Layton straightened her out but, even on our return to Canada, we never warmed up to each other. Oh well.

Our entrance into Holyrood Castle was memorable. Our limousine, flag flying, was opened by a man of the Black Watch –dressed in 16th Century garb. His white gloved hand assisted me in exiting the limousine. Highland music piped us in as we walked through hall after hall of the historic castle and dined as the ladies and knights of old did — but with all the conveniences of modern living. The Scottish entertainment was spine tingling. All in all, an evening I shall never forget.

Reality returned on the trip back to Canada. We were delayed in leaving Edinburgh so we knew our connection to Ottawa would be lost. Dr. Layton, however, knew all the immigration and customs officials at Dorval Airport and he cabled them. Never have I been whisked through an airport more expeditiously.