Curriculum Vitae

Helen Kathleen Mussallem

C.C., D.St.J., B.N., M.A., Ed.D., LLD, Dsc., D.U., F.R.C.N..

Educational Background

Diploma – Vancouver General Hospital

Diploma – Teaching, Supervision and Administration – University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Bachelor of Nursing – McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

Master of Arts – Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York

Doctor of Education – Columbia University, New York

(Honorary Degrees listed under “Major Awards”)

Professional Positions

1943-1946 Active Service, Lieutenant (Nursing Officer) Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps: Canada and Overseas

Staff Nurse, Head Nurse and Supervisor, Vancouver General Hospital

1947-1957 Instructor, Senior Instructor, Director of Nursing Education – Vancouver General Hospital, School of Nursing,

1957-1960 Director, Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing in Canada, Canadian Nurses Association

1960-1963 Director of Special Studies, Canadian Nurses Association

1962-1963 Seconded to Royal Commission on Health Services for Study of Nursing Education in Canada

1963-1981 Executive Director, Canadian Nurses Association

1966-1981 Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Nurses Foundation

1980-1985 Project Director of International Study on “Group Action by Nurses”

1981-1985 Member of Board of Directors of International Council of Nurses

1981-1999 Special Adviser to National and International Health Organizations

Major Awards

Rockefeller Foundation Travelling Scholarship, 1957

Centennial Medal, 1967

Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) – University of New Brunswick, 1968

Officer, Order of Canada, 1969

Doctor of Science (honoris causa) – Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1969

Special Citation of Recognition, Canadian Red Cross Society, 1974

Fellow, Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom, 1976

Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, 1977

Award of Distinguished Achievement in Nursing Research & Scholarship, Columbia University, New York, 1977

Medal for Distinguished Service, Columbia University, 1979

Canada’s National Nursing Library designated “The Helen K. Mussallem Library”, CNA House, June 1980

Florence Nightingale Medal, International Red Cross, 1981

Commonwealth Foundation Lectureship Award to Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Malta and Cyprus, 1981

Jeanne Mance Award of the Canadian Nurses Association, 1981

Dame of Grace, Order of St.John, 1982

Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) – Queen’s University, 1983

Award of Merit, Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia, 1983

Miembro de Honor, Cuban Nurses Society, 1984

International Council of Nurses, Award for Service, 1988

Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) – McMaster University, 1989

Companion, Order of Canada, 1992 (promotion within the Order)

Medal, 125th Anniversary of Confederation, 1992

Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) – University of British Columbia, 1994

Dame of Justice, Order of St.John, 1997

Doctor of the University, University of Ottawa, 1998

Ross Award for Nursing Leadership, Canadian Nurses Foundation, 1991

Nursing Hall of Fame, Columbia University, 1999

Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, 2002

R. Louise McManus Medal for Distinguished Service to Nursing, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2003

Capilano Herald of Arms Extraordinary, Canadian Heraldic Authority, 2006

Doctor of Science (honoris causa) – McGill University, 2006

Lady Ishbel Aberdeen Award, Victorian Order of Nurses Canada, 2007

Notations in Who’s Who in Canada and Who’s Who Outstanding Women of the 20th Century

Honorary Life Member

Association of Nurses of Prince Edward Island, 1971

Alberta Association of Registered Nurses, 1980

Manitoba Association of Registered Nurses, 1980

Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association, 1980

New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses, 1980

Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada, 1981

Canadian Council of Health Service Executives, 1981

Canadian College of Health Services Executives, 1982

Northwest Territories Registered Nurses Association, 1982

Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, 1988

Canadian Nurses Foundation, 1990

Canadian Nursing Students Association, 1992

Canadian Public Health Association, Life Member, 1994

The University of British Columbia Alumni Association, 1994

Victorian Order of Nurses, 1996

Honor Society of Nursing, University of Ottawa

Major International Assignments and Missions

Chairman, First Scientific Group on Research in Nursing of World Health Organization, Geneva, 1963

Canadian Representative at the 350th Anniversary Meeting of the International Red Cross, Lausanne. Switzerland, 1963

Chairman of Expert Committee to advise on the program for the International School of Advanced Nursing Education, University of Edinburgh, for World Health Organization, 1964

Survey of Nursing and Nursing Education in Lebanon for World Health Organization, 1964

Short-term consultant on Survey of Schools of Nursing in the Caribbean for Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, 1964, 1965

Member of Canadian Delegation to Commonwealth Medical Conference, Edinburgh, 1965

Consultant to Seminar on Nursing Education, West Indies, for Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, 1966, 1967 and 1968

Senior Consultant and Chief Rapporteur on First Travelling Seminar on Nursing in USSR for World Health Organization, 1966

Consultant to Seminar for Senior Tutors in the Caribbean, Guyana, South America, 1968

Chairman, PAHO/WHO Technical Advisory Committee on Nursing in Middle andLatin America, Washington, USA, 1968

Project Director for meeting of Commonwealth Caribbean Nurses sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation, Barbados, 1970

WHO Consultant on project for accreditation of university and diploma schools of nursing in the Philippines, 1970

WHO Consultant, Survey of Nursing Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean, 1971

Member, Founding Board of Directors, Commonwealth Nurses Federation, London, England, 1971

Canadian Coordinator of Summit Seminar for Nurses, London, England, 1972, 1974, 1976

Consultant to Seminar on Nursing Education in Latin America (middle level) (PAHO/WHO) Caracas, Venezuela, 1972

Short-term consultant to nursing education project, University School of Nursing, Montevideo, Uruguay, 1973

Consultant to Commonwealth Caribbean Regional Nursing Body, Antigua, W.J., 1973-1977

Consultant to Participant in First All African Seminar of Nurses, Ghana, 1974

Chairman, Committee on Liaison with Professional Associations, IXth International Conference on Health Education, Ottawa, 1976

Keynote Speaker and Conference Consultant, Royal Australian Nursing Federation Conference on Goals in Nursing Education, Melbourne, Australia and Consultant to nurses in Queensland, Tasmania, and Southern Australia, 1977

Member of Canadian Government Delegation, 30th World Health Assembly, Geneva Switzerland 1977

Address to World Federation of Public Health Associations, Geneva Switzerland, 1977

Keynote Speaker and Consultant to Seminar, 10th Anniversary Meeting, Bermuda Nurses Association, Hamilton, Bermuda

Planning Committee & Speaker, Second Congress, World Federation of Public Health Associations, 1978

World Health Organization Study of Nursing Services in Cyprus, 1980

Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom, Seminar, Presentation on Accountability in Nursing, Leeds Castle, Kent, England 1980

Special Advisor to World Health Organization and Official Representative of the International Council of Nurses to the First Congress of the Cuban Nurses Society, Havana, Cuba 1980

Commonwealth Foundation Lectureship to Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Malta, and Cyprus, 1981

Consultant on Nursing and Health to Cuban Government, sponsored by Governments of Canada and Cuba (Memorandum of Understanding) 1973, 1976, 1977, 1981

Official Representative, International Council of Nurses to 2nd World Nurses Congress, Cuba, 1984

Special Adviser to Canadian nurse delegation and Canadian Nurses Association officers at meetings of their international body known as International Council of Nurses (ICN) and its

Council of National Representatives in: Geneva, 1963; Frankfurt, 1965; Evian, 1967; Montreal, 1969; Dublin, 1971; Mexico, 1973; Tokyo, 1977; Nairobi, 1979.

Speaker or Chairman of Special Sessions at ICN Congresses in Frankfurt, 1965; Montreal 1969 (Chairman, host association planning committee); Mexico, 1973; Tokyo, 1977; Nairobi, 1979; Los Angeles, 1981; Tel Aviv Israel, 1985; Seoul, 1989; Madrid, 1993

Chair, Plenary Session, World Federation of Public Health, Mexico, 1987

Board, Committee Member, or Advisor to Organizations including:

Canadian Association for the Prevention of Crime

Canadian Association of University Schools of Nursing

Canadian Cancer Society, Fellowship Committee

Canadian Committee on Five Days of Peace, Board of Directors

Canadian Council on Social Development

Canadian Federation of University Women

Canadian International Development Agency (NGO division)

Canadian Lung Association

Canadian Nurses Association

Canadian Nurses Foundation, Patron

Canadian Nurses Education Interest Group (CNEIG), Consultant

Canadian Public Health Association, International Review and Evaluation Committee

Canadian Society of Association Executives

Canadian University Service Overseas

Caribbean Public Health Association, Founding member

Caribbean Registered Nurses Body

Centre for Days of Peace, Board of Directors

Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations, Board of Directors

Commonwealth Nurses Federation

Eastern, Central and Southern African College of Nursing

Economic Council of Canada (1971-1990)

Friends of National Gallery of Canada

Friends of National Museum of Civilization

Friends of National Arts Centre

Health and Welfare Canada, Fellowship Selections Committee

Human Rights Institute for Canada, Board of Directors

International Council of Nurses

International Association of Adult Education

Law Reform Commission of Canada

Nursing Officers Association of Canada

Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association, Certification Advisory Committee

Orpheus Society, Patron

Pan American Health Organization

Premier’s Council on Health Strategy, 1990

Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia

Royal Society of Health

St. John Ambulance Society, Special Adviser to Chancellor of St. John Ambulance on Public Affairs, 1989

UNICEF National Committee

Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada, Past President

West African College of Nursing

World Federation of Public Health

World Health Organization

YM/YWCA Discussion Club, Consultant

Major Publications

(Click on underlined entries to see full text)

A Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing. Canadian Journal of Public Health 8:8:350-351, Aug. 1958

Spotlight on Nursing Education: the report of the pilot project for the evaluation of schools of nursing in Canada. Ottawa, Canadian Nurses Association, 1960

Path to Quality; a plan for the development of nursing education programs within the general education system of Canada. Ottawa, Canadian Nurses Association, 1964, cl962

Trends in Research in Nursing: (Canada and the United States of America). Geneva, WHO, 1963. (WHO Scientific Group in Research in Nursing, Working paper no. 1)

*Shall we join the family? Canadian Nurse 60(4):381-2. Apr. 1964.

Report of assignments completed by PAHO/WHO short-term consultant on project West Indies 12 from July 5 – August 22, 1964, Ottawa, 1964

Social Change and Nursing Education, Niagara Falls Ontario, 1964, In Papers, Conference of the directors of schools of nursing in Ontario. College of Nurses of Ontario , Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1964

Survey of Nursing and Nursing Education in Lebanon: Assignment Report. Geneva, World Health Organization, 1964

Nursing Education in Canada. Ottawa, Queen’s Printer, 1965. (Royal Commission on Health Service. Study) Nutrition in Nursing Education. Nutrition Notes. 2:2:13-19, Feb. 1966

Report on assignment completed by PAHO/WHO short term consultant from 27 July – 3 Sep. 1965 on PAHO/WHO project AMRO 6031. Ottawa, 1965

Royal Commission on Health Services – Implications for Nursing in Canada. RNAQ News Bulletin , 21:3:10-11. May/Jun. 1965

Formation des infirmieres au Canada, L’Infirmiere (Belges) 44:6:34-35 Dec. 1966

Nursing in Canada. Nursing Times, 62:49:1626-1629, Dec. 9, 1966

Report of the Survey of Schools of Nursing in the Caribbean Area March 1964 -August 1965. Washington, WHO/PAHO, 1966. (WHO/PAHO Reports of Nursing No.6)

Studies on Nursing in Canada. Geneva, WHO, 1966. (Prepared for First Travelling Seminar on Nursing, USSR)

Apercu des soins infirmiers en URSS. Infirmiere Canadienne 9:2:20-26, fev. 1967

A Glimpse of Nursing in the USSR. Canadian Nurse 63:2:27-33, Feb. 1967

*Manpower problems in nursing. 63 (8): 25-28

Problemes de main-d’oevre chez les infirmieres. Infirmiere Canadienne 9:8:22-25, aout 1967

Studies on Nursing in Canada. International Nurse Review, 14:3:35-42, May/Jun. 1967

*No Lack of Nurses – But a Shortage of Nursing. International Nurse Review, 15(1)35.49, Jan,

Changing Role of the Nurse. American Journal of Nursing, 69:3:514-517, Mar. 1969

The Changing Role of the Nurse. International Review of the Red Cross 9:99:287-294, June 1969

Le role futur de l’infirmiere. Revue international de la Croix-Rouge 606:337-347, 1969

Nursing Education in the Philippines; Assignment Reports, July to September 1970

2020: Nursing Fifty Years Hence. In Mary Innis, ed., Nursing Education in a Changing Society, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1970

The Changing Role of Nurses. Catholic Hosp. 2:4:4-6, Jul. 1971

The Changing Role of the Nurse. In Edith Patten Lewis ed., Changing Patterns of Nursing

Practice: New Needs, New Roles. New York, American Journal of Nursing, 1971

*The Expanding Role: Where Do We Go From Here? Canadian Nurse 67:9:31-34 Sep.1971

Des responsabilites accrues…que sera la prochaine etape? Infirmiere Canadienne 13:9:18-22 sept. 1971 Physician’s Associate Also Means Patient’s Friend. Medi cal Post 67:6:30-31, Mar. 23, 1971

What Kind of Expanding Role? Hospital Administration Canada, 13:11:17, Nov. 1971

Mount Edith Cavell: Canada’s Tribute to a Gallant Nurse. Canadian Nurse 68:23-26, Feb. 1972

Le mont Edith Cavell. Infirmiere Canadienne 14:5:18-21, mai 1972

Options and Opportunities for Nursing. RNAO News 28(3):14-15, May-Jun. 1972

The Changing Role of the Nurse. In Joan Reihl, ed. The Clinical Nurse Specialist: Interpretations . New York, Appleton-Century Crofts, 1973

*The nurse’s role in policy making and planning. International Nursing Review 20(1):9-11. Jan-Feb 1973.

Coup d’oeil sur les soins infirmiers a Cuba. Infirmiere Canadienne. 15:9:12-18, sept. 1973

*A Glimpse of Nursing in Cuba. Canadian Nurse, 69:9:25-30, Sep. 1973

Report of CNA Executive Director to the annual meeting and convention Canadian Nurses’ Association, June 1974. Canadian Nurse 69(9):23-30. Sept, 1973.

Canada: New Issues in Nursing. Annual Symposium of the School of Hygiene, pp. 80-87, 1973.

*What is nursing? Australian Nurses Journal 5 (2):8-12, Aug. 1975.

A conversation with executive director. Canadian Nurse 72(4):44-5. Apr 1976.

Medical Roles, Letter to the Editor. Response to Kenneth M.Leighton. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 116 :1:15, Jan. 8. 1977

Nurses and Political Action, In. Betsy Laser, ed. Issues in Canadian Nursing, edited by M. Ruth

Elliott. Scarborough, Ont, Prentice Hall, 1977

The Necessity for Systematic Knowledge. In Nursing Profession – Routinized, Ritualized or Research Based? Helen Mussallem et al. J.Adv. Nurs. 4:1:87-98, Jan. 1979

With Mary E. Robertson. Through the Eyes of Continuing Education – Canada, Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing 11:1:41-45, Jan/Feb. 1980

Project Report on Training of Nurse-Midwives as Traditional Birth Attendants, West African College of Nurses, 1980

Creative Caring. Keynote Address, Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association, 22-26 October 1979. COMM.(OHNA)CATOR. Feb. 1980, p.4-7

Continuing education: An essential to nursing strategy in primary health care. Nursing Times 77(47):162-3. Nov 1981.

New Horizons in Occupational Safety and Health. In Prevention of Occupational Accidents & Disease , 1983

Succeeding Together: Group Action by Nurses, International Council of Nurses, 1983

Continuing Education: An Essential to Nursing Strategy and Network in Primary Health Care; C ommonwealth Foundation, London, England, 1983

International bodies and prison health care. International Nursing Review 30 (6): 183-5. Nov-Dec 1983.

A National Library Approach “Challenges & Choices”, American Nurses Association, 1984

Professional Associations and Political Action: In Community Health Nursing in Canada, 1985

Regulatory Mechanisms for Basic Nursing Education with Reference to Including Primary Health Care Concepts, WHO, 1985

Changing Roles of Professional Organizations; in Canadian Nursing Faces the Future, 1986

Training of Nurse Teachers and Managers with Special Regard to Primary Health Care; World Health Organization, 1986

Preventable and patterns of disease: Prospects and Research Directions in the Future; in Rece nt Advances in Nursing 22: 147-62. U.K., 1988

Remembering yesterday. RNABC News 21 (3):27. May-June, 1989

*My time at CNA was a wonderful gift. Canadian Nurse 104(9):56. Nov. 2008.

Major Speeches and Lectures

Titles and copies of major speeches, 1963-1981, were donated to Speech File and Archives m The Helen K. Mussallem Library”, CNA House, Ottawa. They have since been transferred to National Archives of Canada, where they are accessible along with other drafts, notes, and texts. (Click on underlined entries to see full text)

Selected presentations:

RNABC Greater Victoria District Conference on Nursing – Address “Design or Dilemma”, 1965

University of B.C. Marion Woodward Lecture, 1969

Alberta Nursing Students Association – Address, 1971

RNAO General Convention – Address “Psychiatric nursing: A changing activity in a changing world”, 1974

Vancouver General Hospital School of Nursing Graduation, 3 May 1974

Vancouver General Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae – Speech, 1974

Kings’ Fund Seminar of Nurses – “Basic education of nursing personnel in Canada”, 1974

*Registered Nurses Association of Ontario 50th Annual Convention, 1975.

University of Ottawa School of Nursing – Address to Graduating Class, 1975

Alberta Association of Registered Nurses Annual Meeting – Address, 1975

Canadian Inuit Nurses Conference – Speech, 1975

National Defence Medical Centre – Address, 1975

Second International Congress of the World Federation of Public Health Associations – Opening Remarks, 1978

Royal Australian Nursing Federation Conference Goals in Nursing Education – Keynote Address “What is nursing?” Melbourne, 1975.

New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses – Address, 1980

Manitoba Association of Registered Nurses, Annual Meeting, – “Spotlight on Nursing – the Year 2000” May 1980

Canadian Public Health Association – Keynote “Four Horsemen of the Eighties”, 1981

Keynote Speaker, International Nursing Interchange (Project Hope), Millwood, Virginia, USA, 1981

The Four Horsemen of the Eighties: Canadian Public Health Association, 1981

Creative Strategies. Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Annual Meeting, 1981

Nursing Potential for Impact on Family life: Nursing Explorations Series, McGill University, 1981

Tribute to Gordon Henderson, Q.C., Canadian Bar Foundation, 1982

Plenary Speaker at Second World Congress on Prison Health Care, “International Bodies and Prison Health Care”, Ottawa, 1983

International Conference Health for All: 25 Years of the Cuban Experience – “Nursing and Primary Health Care”, 1983

American Nurses Association Convention, New Orleans – “Notes on the Canadian Nurses Association Library: A National Library Approach”. 26 June, 1984.

St. John Ambulance Brigade 470 – Address, 1984

Vancouver General Hospital School of Nursing – Speech to Graduating Class, 1984

Tenth Biennial Institute for Operating Room Nurses – Keynote Address, 1986

National Council of Women – Speech “Volunteerism: Who pays, who cares, who counts – 1988

Volunteerism: Unmeasured Productivity; Who Pays, Who Cares, Who Counts? Canadian Federation of University Women, 1990

Victorian Order of Nurses Annual Meeting, Presidents Message – 1991

Algonquin College, Graduation Schools of Health Sciences and Technology and Trades – Address to Graduates, 12 June, 1993

Annual Meeting of the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland – “The Future role of the association”, 1993

University of B.C. Graduation Ceremony – Congregation Address, 27 May 1994.

Notes for “Kaleidoscope of Leadership”, speech to veteran nurses.

Marion Woodward Lecture, UBC 1969 – Beth McCann and benefactor Marion Woodward with Helen

Helen was the first “MarionWoodward Lecture”, beginning a long tradition of dignitaries and scholars invited annually to present to the UBC and nursing communities.The benefactor, Marion Woodward, is in the middle; on the left is Beth McCann, a much beloved faculty member in the School of Nursing.  (photo courtesy of Sally Thorne, Ph.D., UBC School of Nursing)

1965 – 1966 CNA activities and CNA House


CNA Executive Director Helen Mussallem

As we moved into the mid 60s, approaching Canada’s centennial year, there was a significant increase in the number of national governmental committees and commissions. I seized the opportunities offered and advised the President and Board that CNA should take advantage of the opportunity to participate. This suggestion was not always received with great enthusiasm. There were the inevitable questions about how much will it cost, who will do it, should CNA risk being in the midst of controversy, and so on. I knew, however, that if CNA was to gain status as a national organization and elevate the status of nurses while enhancing their ability to provide better nursing and health service, we had to seize every opportunity. This meant that I was often left writing the brief – in consultation with the president, Isobel MacLeod. She was a wonderful person to work with and she gave me full reign.

The four major brief and submissions went to:

– The Senate of Canada Special Committee on Aging

– The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

– The Canadian Conference on Mental Retardation

– The Canadian Centennial Council and Centennial Commission

For the Senate Brief on Aging, CNA recruited Trenna Hunter of Vancouver, who was knowledgeable in this area, to assist in writing the brief. Trenna and I appeared before the Special Committee . We were well received. Senator Ferguson, the interrogator, was very thoughtful and sympathetic to our point of view.

The CNA Brief to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was not a stellar effort. I canvassed all members of the Executive Committee for their points of view and, guided by the terms of reference, wrote the brief CNA appeared before the Royal Commission and was well received.

The other two submissions, to the Canadian Conference on Mental Retardation and to the Canadian Centennial Council and Centennial Commission, were written, to a large extent, by members of the Executive Committee who had expertise in these areas. No strong positions were taken in either of these submissions.

Centennial fever was rampant and all non-governmental organizations were asked to submit project proposals. CNA decided to produce yet another film on nursing. The most impressive CNA centennial project, however, was the establishment, on site at Expo ’67, of a nursing station of the future. It was completely high tech and, in 1967, it boggled our minds. In less than 20 years, our high tech station has become a reality. Staffed by Rita Lussier and Viola Aboud, who created the exhibit, it was a popular display at Expo. The students and staff who worked at this Expo ’67 exhibit formed close personal ties and continued yearly meetings in the subsequent decades.


CNA House finally got its start with the digging of a massive hole in the ground at 50 The Driveway. It was a long, convoluted road which led to the construction of this “house” financed and built by and for Canadian nurses as their national headquarters. I must confess that, in the beginning, I was not very enthusiastic about this project as I thought it might take an undue amount of time away from CNA’s main objectives. We had already spent a great deal of time negotiating with the owners of two lots at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Charlotte Street.

Ottawa’s then mayor, Charlotte Whitton, said that she would oppose our purchase of this site as “the Catholics” who owned the lots on either side would eventually expropriate our property. We had been forced to bow out at that point even though our architect, Mr. James Strutt, had already submitted a very classic design for a building which would have met CNA’s current and future needs. A House Committee took responsibility for finding a new site. I admit that I begrudged the time the committee took for meetings which I was required to attend, with little apparent outcome. Eventually, our architect, Mr. Strutt, advised that Capital Storage, at 50 The Driveway, was selling and we began to negotiate. New designs were submitted to fit the new site. The south side of the proposed building had to be made to fit into the adjacent NCC property and that is how CNA House got its jagged silhouette. In the end, we had been able to trade the back portion of our lot for the NCC land on the south side of the site, but by then it was too late to change the original design. We had been delayed in acquiring the necessary property as Mrs. Murphy, the property owner, knew we wanted it and held us for ransom. We paid dearly for that small wedge of land and the house on it which had to be demolished.

Alternate version of the CNA House story:

. . . she approached the problem of developing plans for a new National Office. First of all, a site had to be found and, eventually, a very desirable property next to Le Cercle Universitaire and the Newman Club was located. However, when Ottawa’s mayor, Charlotte Whitton, heard that CNA was attempting to purchase this land and the buildings thereon, she was absolutely enraged. “Don’t you dare buy those,” she said. “Those Catholics on either side will expropriate and you will not have a place for your building in 10 years time.” As it happens, the mayor was wrong –30 years later the houses are still there. But, as mayor, Charlotte Whitton would not give CNA permission to build on that site. Luckily, an architect who had submitted drawings for that particular location knew of another site at 50 Driveway, where Capital Storage was located. CNA negotiated with Capital Storage and all went well.

Negotiations with the National Capital Commission who had property behind and at the side of the site were also successful. Then there was Mrs. Murphy! She had a small piece of land between the front and back part of the property CNA was buying and she held CNA to ransom for this little slice of soil. She would not sell her house unless she was paid an exorbitant sum. CNA, reluctantly, paid.

During the previous year, when the Executive was about to meet and while I was having dinner with the President, Electa MacLennan and the PresidentElect, they asked to see the site of CNA’ s new home. During this visit, we decided to have a sod-turning ceremony with all members of the sub-committee of the Executive present. We needed a shovel, so I telephoned Georgina Clarke at home and she agreed to bring one. Georgina had class. Next day, 1 April 1965, she arrived at the meeting with a gold-painted spade. Such was the commitment of CNA staff.

That same year, I thought it would be a great idea to have a time capsule embedded in the walloutside the Board Room. Once again, when the time came, staff came through for us. They procured a metal box and placed inside it copies of The Canadian Nurse and L’infirmiere canadienne, minutes of board of directors meetings, postage stamps, coins, letterhead and envelopes etc. for cementing into the wall. Perhaps in 1996, 30 years after the opening of CNA House, CNA could have a celebration marking this event.

Before CNA House was officially opened, we were staggered by three deaths (reminiscent of the triple crown of deaths over the original Board Room). They were: the Chairperson of the House Committee, Mildred Walker; President Katherine MacLaggan; and Governor General Georges Vanier. The latter was to have presided at the official opening of the building -invitations had been printed — and then all the arrangements had to be changed.

CNA House opening with Governor General Roland Michener


When, as CNA Director of Special Studies, I was able to persuade Dr. Kaspar Naegle to carry out approved Recommendation One of the Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing in Canada: “That are-examination and study of the whole field of nursing education be undertaken,” I was absolutely delighted. He had all of the required qualifications and then some. He met with the CNA Board of Directors on two occasions and I met with him, in Vancouver, on three other occasions. He was brilliant. Without question, he was the pre-eminent sociologist in the health field and we worked well together. In fact, I was always learning from him. His preliminary papers, submitted to the Board of Directors, had been well received. Then, on 6 February 1965, we got the news of his tragic death, by suicide. I was saddened beyond words. Apparently, a series of mistakes in judgment by his psychiatrist and hospital staff and allowed this tragedy to occur. I remember him so very well. These few words which follow are my reflections on a great man:

“..Modest and humble in the extreme. He perceived others with clarity and compassion but could not see in himself the greatness of his gifts. This was his tragedy and now it is ours. .. He asked us to live to the last minute and then at that moment we would see our equations written out. We can say that for him all actions were symbolic. These were statements. And he has made a statement, discrete and final, and it is true.”

The papers he wrote for CNA were compiled into a booklet, “A Course for the Future”, published in 1966. It is a rare gem.

Strangely, the death of Kaspar Naegle opened another door for me. Dr. Naegle had been asked by the Royal Commission on Health Services to carry out Recommendation One of the Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing in Canada and to carry out A Survey of Nursing Education in Canada. On his death, I was asked to take over both of these tasks. My survey of nursing education for the Royal Commission was published in 1964. I believe it is the best survey and report I had completed yet, strangely, most researchers refer to Spotlight on Nursing, A Report of the Pilot Project on Nursing Education in Canada.

An alternate version of the preceding:

It seemed logical, therefore, that Recommendation 1 on the whole field of nursing education be assumed by the person carrying out the examination for the Royal Commission. Dr. Naegle was a superb sociologist and scholar and Helen was delighted that he would be directing the project on nursing education for both CNA and the RCHS. His abrupt and untimely death was a devastating blow! The Director of Special Studies was asked to step into the breach and undertake this project. Although sure she could never produce a study the quality of one directed by Dr. Naegle, Helen agreed to do her best. The final report, when completed, was well received by the Royal Commission.

Study of Recommendations of Royal Commission on Health Services, 1964-1965

A study of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Health Services revealed that 79 of the 200 recommendations were “of concern to nurses”. Fifty-nine had direct implications for nursing.

This study was carried out “… with a view to establishing its own position and course of action.” It is impossible to calculate the effectiveness of the thousands of person hours that were expended on this study. At that time, however, a “position and course of action,” as well as a study of the recommendations, was required. In retrospect, I believe more time should have been spent on strategizing these studies.

Of great interest to me are the discrepancies between my recommendations in the survey Nursing Education in Canada (1964) and the recommendations of the RCHS. I recommended that the control of diploma nursing education be removed from hospitals and moved into the educational stream. The Royal Commission recommended only that the budget of the school of nursing and the hospital be separate. This was, in my view, unacceptable. The change suggested was only cosmetic and did not address the root of the problem.

Journals Editor, 1965

When I arrived at CNA, Margaret Kerr was the long-time, respected editor of The Canadian Nurse . She had been one of my teachers when I was a student at Vancouver General Hospital, and I stood in awe in her presence. I recall that, when she came to teach our classes, she wore a hat as was the dress code of the day. Each class, after about one minute, she removed her hat, with much verbal condemnation of the practice. Horrors! A woman with her head bared!

Margaret Kerr, as editor of CNJ, had fought hard to have her position considered equivalent to that of the Executive Director of CNA. She had had an on-going feud with the previous Executive Director, Penny Stiver, and she had won and, in so doing, had become Executive Director of the Journal. Margaret Kerr made it quite clear that she was at least on an equal status with me. As always, I was speechless.

When her retirement became imminent, we searched for a replacement. I was not satisfied with the recommendations of Mr. McGuire (PR counsel) and Ernest Van Raalte (General Manager). Suddenly, while talking via telephone with the two gentlemen, I had a flash of inspiration. We already had two great assistant editors, Virginia Lindabury (English) and Claire Bigue (French).

Why not have two editors –one English and one French? Mr. McGuire and Mr. Van Raalte were silent for a while but finally agreed to get back to me. Apparently, they discussed the idea with Margaret Kerr and she adopted it as her own. Great! So, on Margaret Kerr’s retirement, we replaced her with two editors. It seemed to work satisfactorily but was finally discontinued.

Committee on Social & Economic Welfare, 1965

When I arrived in Ottawa in 1957 for my two-year project, I was warmly received but whenever nurse’s salaries were discussed, I knew that I was viewed with suspicion. The west coast of Canada at that time was the militant promoter of UNIONS. Horrors! The Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia had authority to bargain collectively for nurses and was actively doing so. Other provinces lagged behind but gradually the “union movement” was gaining recognition — especially in Saskatchewan.

Louise Miner (Saskatchewan) was aware of the need to have national recognition of “collective bargaining” for nurses. After many meetings and much soul searching, the Executive Committee, in 1965, finally took a brave step forward and established a “Social and Economic Welfare Program”. The words “collective bargaining” were carefully omitted.

New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses, June 1965

My first visit to St. Stephen, N.B. was to attend the annual meeting of the New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses (NBARN) 2-5 June 1965. CNA’s President Elect, Katherine McLaggan, of N.B., was an important figure at these meetings as she was at all provincial, national and international nurses’ meetings. Katherine and I attended the meetings together as we planned strategy for convincing delegates that all nursing education belonged within the system of general education. Katherine was an inspirational leader and, at this meeting, she quoted liberally from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. I have used these quotations on many other occasions:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye;” and

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”.

Following the meetings, Katherine had made arrangements for me to see the Ganong Chocolate Factory. On the way over, she told me that what she really wanted was not chocolate but jelly beans. At the factory we were met by no less than the President of the company, who insisted on taking us on the tour himself. It was fascinating. Very early on, Katherine told the company president that she would like some jelly beans. Poor man, I thought he was going to have a stroke. He was adamant “no jellybeans”. He was not proud of that product and confided that the company only produced them because of demand. As we progressed, Katherine continued to whisper to me that she “must” have some jelly beans. At one point, I excused myself and headed for the ladies room with a detour past the jelly bean sections. I gather the president -or someone – had instructed that jelly beans were not to be given to the distinguished visitors. I held firm. Finally, the supervisor said that, if he was not looking, I could take some candies from the tray. I did. Thank goodness, too, because, after we left, the first thing Katherine asked, with fire in her voice, was “Where are my jelly beans?” I produced them and she gave me, in return, the chocolates the president had given her. The story does not end there, however. Katherine told me much later, in Ottawa, that the president knew that I had taken some jelly beans and he was not amused. Each time I see the ashtray given to me by the Ganong president that day, I am reminded of jelly beans. And that was in the pre-President Regan era!

International Work 1969-1975 (5.4.5 cont.)

Regional Nursing Body of Caribbean Commonwealth, 1969 – 1971

I had asked Mr Chadwick (position?) for financial assistance to bring principal nursing officers from 40 Commonwealth countries to the ICN Congress in Montreal in 1969. There were four requirements attached to CNA’s acceptance of the Commonwealth Foundation Grant:

1. CNA would conduct a two-week educational seminar. (This seminar was organized by Hallie Sloan and was held in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.)

2. CNA would host a meeting of nurse delegates from all Commonwealth countries to discuss formation of a Commonwealth Nurses Association. Mary Hall (U.K.) and I, with the support of Australia and New Zealand, agreed that another international nurses association was needed.

The Commonwealth meeting was held during the ICN Congress with the CNA President as Chair. The Executive Director of the Commonwealth Legal Association (Mr. Merrian) attended as a consultant from a previously-organized Commonwealth group. I was secretary. Lo and behold, the chief nurses from developing countries were in agreement that such an association should be formed. An Ad Hoc Committee was struck to investigate further. We left Montreal and the ICN Congress with plans to develop a Commonwealth-wide Nurses Association –which later became the Commonwealth Nurses Federation. It has survived for 25 years, working for Commonwealth nurses and their associations.

3. Three nurses from the U.K. and three from Canada would travel throughout the Caribbean conducting discussions with nurses in the Islands. As a WHO Consultant to the Commonwealth Caribbean, I was already aware of the important and identified need for Principal Nursing Officers from the Commonwealth Caribbean countries to communicate face-to-face to share, compare and set goals for nursing education and service in the English-speaking Caribbean area. I persuaded Mr. Chadwick that the grant should be used to explore establishing a Caribbean nurse’s organization. A man of exceptional perception, Mr. Chadwick acceded to all our requests. In 1971, after extensive planning, the meeting was held and the Regional Nursing Body became a reality.

Verna Huffman Splane (Canada’s Principal Nursing Officer) had been asked to join the group set up to explore the possibility of establishing a regional nursing body. She left to return to Canada prior to my departure. She asked if I would pick up, and bring home with me, a dress her dressmaker had not yet completed. I agreed. On the last day prior to my departure, I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and walk to the dressmaker’s establishment. I had, I thought, explicit directions. Soon, under the blazing sun, I began to wonder if I was really on the right road. Seeing a young boy across the road, I shouted, “Will this road take me to Mrs. King?” He answered –puzzled. “No man, no. You has to walk. The road won’t take you there.” I have never forgotten that response.

Caribbean Nursing Body

Montevideo, 1973

“Where you go last night?” said Dean Soledad Sanchez (School of Nursing, University of Uruguay) in her best English. “Oh, I went out for dinner.” She blanched and quivered. “You not know radio say, stay off all streets?’ ”

“No, I could not understand the Spanish on the radio.”

Still white and shaking she said, “They (the military) were ordered to shoot.”

“But, ah” I said,” they would not touch me. I was carrying my United Nations Laissez Passer”

“Put that away!” she shrieked. “They will think you American and shoot you! Carry CanadianPassport only!”

Montevideo. How did I ever get there? What was I doing there? I remember well the summer of 1973. Mother had died at her (our) home in Haney on June 22nd, and I was full of grief. She was such a very special person and a remarkable woman. Having written acknowledgement of condolence letters for two weeks, I returned to Ottawa and was acutely aware that I would never see her again—her lovely face as she sat in the green chair looking out the window at the never-ending traffic—her laughter that was like a thousand bells peeling out—her caring for all her family and everyone who needed her. Ottawa never seemed the same. I looked out of my apartment on the 12th floor at Cooper near Elgin and saw, once again, the entire sweep of the Parliament Building and the Gatineau Hills. But I could never say “home again.” Ottawa was my duty post, Vancouver was my home. Friends and staff at CNA were superb in their support and their attempt to share the load. But in the end, one has to get on with one’s own life–alone. My special friend was between assignments in Ottawa but family commitments and visits from his daughter left little time for comforting. And then the phone rang and my life took another twist.

Secretary to HKM: “Urgent call on line 2 from Olga Verderesse, Chief Nurse, Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).”

“Wow, what now’?” Olga revealed that I “had been chosen to carry out a PAHO/WHO project in Montevideo.” I never knew I was in the running… such is the approach of PAHO.

“What is the project about?”

“One that only you can do” replied Olga.

“And where is Montevideo?”

“In South America … South, south.”

I hadn’t a clue but asked about the project. Olga assured me that I could do it very well. Somehow colleagues seemed to think I could do almost anything on a broad spectrum of health issues. But this is far from the truth. What is the truth is that I do commit myself to the task at hand, often denying myself some of the small pleasures of life.

“The University wants you to help the research office develop a longitudinal study on the graduates of the School of Nursing,” noted Olga. “You will come to Washington and I will tell you all about it.” As with many PAHO/WHO projects all the facts are not known at headquarters … but it did intrigue me.

The flight to Montevideo in Economy Glass was horrendous. I thought it would never end. When we flew over the Amazon I thought my final hour had come. The plane was packed and most of the passengers were screaming and praying in Spanish or Portuguese. I knew God was multilingual but I am not sure that our situation was capable of deliverance. Buenos Aires never looked so good!

Full of fatigue, with eyes three-quarters closed from no sleep, I had to negotiate through customs and immigration in Spanish. My U.N. Laissez Passer did not make anything easier. But, ah, on arrival in Montevideo there was the U.N. car and driver.

“¿Habla usted inglés?”

“Non.”’ said my driver.

“No hablo mucho español.”

Oh, well we found the bags and I was relieved I didn’t have to talk. I was wiped out. But after a short sleep, I found night had fallen and I was hungry. So out into the night I went down the glorious main street to Independence Square. It was a beautiful night. The full moon hung over the Parliament Buildings. Then a barrage of mounted horses swept past me. The soldiers had their rifles slung “on the ready”. A magnificent sight. Dashing close by me was this captivating sight of charging, helmeted soldiers on horseback silhouetted against a black sky and a full moon. I emerged from my little corner and went into el restaurante complete with my diccionario. There was no one in the classy restaurante and I had a gourmet meal of Argentinean beef and little square puffy potatoes. Then I walked back, there was not a person on the main street except me. I did not know until the next morning that I had broken a curfew and could have been shot on sight. This was only the beginning of events in that troubled country.

The work on the project was difficult, intensive, but rewarding. There were some well qualified faculty with whom I worked, so that once I left the project would continue. It was a longitudinal study of the graduates of the last five years, i.e. all the students who have graduated from the University School of Nursing. There is only one other hospital school of nursing which I found out much later was supported by the military.

The “Military” was a very important part of life when I was in Montevideo. There had been a coup exactly one week before I had arrived. According to my colleagues, “informers” were planted everywhere and one had to be careful about what one said. About ten days after I arrived, the Dean of Medicine and the Dean of the School of Nursing called an assembly of all the students. In no uncertain terms, they roared at the students about the evils of the coup. My translator said there was a spy at the back of the room. I could not tell. One week later, to the day, the dean of medicine was whisked away and shot.

The school went on. The facilities were unbelievably awful. No lights, no running water, no soap, no toilet paper. To flush the toilet you walked down two flights of stairs for a bucket of water. When you came up it was used for flushing the toilet and washing the hands. If anyone went to Buenos Aires they were given a long list of what to buy, usually toilet paper, Kotex, and cosmetics. There were no hidden “goodies” as one sometimes finds in the international community. WHO/PAHO asked me to go to Santiago, Chile, half way through my assignment. They wanted me to help with the planning of a Seminar on Legal Aspects of Nursing. I thought, perhaps, I could bring back some comforts for my colleagues. It was even worse in Santiago.

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel. A week later there was a revolution and Allende, as we all know, was shot. The city was in a state of cruel devastation. I was happy to leave at the end of three days for Montevideo. When I arrived there it looked good… Almost like home.

The project was on time according to our original schedule. When I left the faculty was prepared to carry on with the information gathering, analysis and recording. But I kept wondering how they would continue under such strain. They were able to take time off and show me something of the country. I remember well seeing large fields of amatysta… great, large round stones that they broke for me, and gave me chunks of this beautiful purple stone. In the market I tried to buy more but each time I saw something I liked I was told to say “caro.” The merchants were ready to bargain but I was afraid to buy with my colleagues not too far away. They were all so friendly but a cloud seemed to be hanging over their heads.

One night I was invited to my part-time translator’s home ( I was able to get along without her after about 10 days), and we had a high caloric dinner. The next day when I arrived, my translator looked haggard. Apparently, that night, her sister who worked in a bank was taken away at 3.a.m. There were no traces of her. They all carried a needle and thread and every once in a while I could see them checking up on each other to make sure they still had this important tool. As I write this, and look back, I wonder how the nurses and doctors made out.

How they rejoiced at the fate of the CIA trainer. How they tried to make life seem normal under such conditions. How are the vendors on the street doing? You can imagine my delight when last September, Soleded Sanchez was in Mexico and she sent a letter with a Canadian diplomat in her poor English to tell me, “All good now. Project good now. Please come Montevideo.” At least I know she is alive. Perhaps one day… ?

King’s Fund Summit Seminars, 1974

One day, Eleanor Lambertson telephoned to tell me she was negotiating with King’s Fund College in the U.K. to hold a seminar in London. Eleanor was an M.A. classmate of mine from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, who later became head of the Nursing Department, Teachers College and Dean of Nursing at New York University. The proposed seminar was to he composed of 10 senior nurses in key positions in the U.K. and 10 from the U.S. Eleanor, however, believed it would be advantageous to have three nurses from Canada, leaving seven to be selected from the U.S.

The Summit Seminar on Nursing took place in King’s Fund College, 2 Palace Court, London. Residence accommodation was close by hut minimal. My room was so tiny that standing in the center, I was able to touch both walls. Bathroom facilities were shared by many. The College’s dining facilities, on the other hand, were absolutely elegant. The wood- panelled walls, refectory tables, sterling silver and fine china provided a cordial setting for meeting and eating.

The Seminar was rich in content and, at the end of the week, I was asked to summarize deliberations. This is not my forte but, somehow I got something together. My real task, however was still to come.

I was told, not asked, by the U.S. U.K. and Canadian members of the Seminar to give the speech of thanks to Lord Taylor (head of King’s College) after the large and “full of pomp” final dinner. Not a little extra pressure was added when they suggested to me that the continuation of these seminars would depend on the effectiveness of my speech. With trepidation I prepared my notes and, to boost my morale, I wore a favourite green caftan to the dinner.

At dinner, I was seated on Lord Taylor’s right. Even the sips of wine I took did nothing to neither overcome my shyness nor help me to carry on an intelligent or lively conversation with him. Half-way through the meal, the other seminar participants sent me, secretly, a note which said, “It all depends on you!” I was paralyzed with fear!

Following royal toasts, introduction of very special persons, and despite my fervent prayers for deliverance, it was my turn to give the speech upon which all future seminars could depend. Horrors! So nervous was I that I couldn’t find my reading glasses. With trembling knees, I stood up, unreadable notes in hand, and addressed the Lords and Ladies.

When, with great relief, I resumed my seat, the applause was music to my ears. At dinner’s end, Lord Taylor arose. He took me by the arm and led me out of the dining room. “Well done,” he said. I wanted to ask if the Seminars would continue but, of course, did not dare. Later, the chief manager of the King College Seminars told me that Lord Taylor was pleased and there would be another seminar in two years time!

The content of this and succeeding seminars was well planned. Discussions were always lively and the trans-oceanic differences fascinating. It was a period of massive reorganization of the U.K. National Health Service (NHS). Nurses should have been key players in the implementation of these changes but this was not generally the case –as I perceived it, anyway.

I was particularly interested, when visiting a hospital, to learn how these changes were affecting nurses at the primary care level. The effects were many. One difference which was mentioned frequently was the dramatic change in the nurse’s uniform. Gone were the impressive uniforms of old – frilly caps, large, stiff bibs and aprons, etc. — which identified the training school of the graduate and her rank. In most hospitals, the new uniform was a simple white dress similar to those worn by nurses in Canada. The identifying “sister belt”, however, remained. I asked several nurses in various settings how they felt about such a drastic change in uniforms. To my surprise, many responded, “I feel almost naked. I will have to become accustomed to it.” All appreciated the savings in laundry costs, etc., but it was a difficult leap from the past for many. Even the doctors I talked with felt saddened by the sudden change in uniform and felt savings could have been made in other “extravagancies”.

Australia, 1975

During my lectureship, sponsored by the Royal Australian Nurses Association, I gave major speeches in several metropolitan centers -Melbourne,Hobart (Tasmania), Adelaide (Southern Australia) and I vividly recall my trip from Ottawa to Melbourne. It took 36 hours from the time I left Ottawa until I arrived at Melbourne Airport on Sunday morning -exhausted!

There were many stops where one could only try to grab some snatches of sleep in noisy, confused airports. Impossible! All I could think of was the long, long sleep I would have when I arrived. I was met at my lodgings, The Presidents Motor Inn, by my Australian counterpart, Mary Patten. She gleefully announced that I would be free until my first meeting at 4 P.M. that very day. I was allowed four whole hours to recover from my trip! Fatigued, but enthusiastic, I met with the Committee planning mammoth events to rally the governmental and nursing personnel on the new “Goals of Nursing” (Canadian experience).

During my Australian travels, I encountered a number of “whimsies” along the way. I remember being told in Hobart, Tasmania, that winter had set in. I saw only one ice crystal on the road the entire time I was there but, I guess, a hardy Canadian’s perceptions are different! As we approached Hobart, I saw an immense span bridge with the entire centre section missing. I was told the whole sad story. One night, a freighter hit one of the bridge supports and the centre section fell away. Motorists on the bridge simply fell through as did other motorists travelling along unaware of the missing section. A doctor, returning from hospital where his seriously ill wife had begun to show signs of recovery, was so anxious to tell his children the good news that he refused to be stopped by men frantically waving to keep him from danger. He drove onto the bridge and, next day, his prescription pad was found floating at the water’s edge.

On to Adelaide. The moment I arrived, tired from several days of lecturing and being entertained, I was told by three elegantly-dressed women to hurry and change for dinner. I quickly unpacked, showered and dressed in my ankle-length dinner dress. When I came downstairs, the largest, matronly woman said, “Oh you must change into a formal dress! This is a formal occasion.” Back up the stairs I rushed to put on my long skirt and sparkly top brought for formal occasions. (The CNR meeting was in Singapore that year and I had, luckily, brought along dresses for the two or three formal CNR events.) My companions had offered good advice, however, because when we arrived at the city’s “poshest” establishment everyone was in formal dress. Some men even wore white tie and tails!

International Initiatives in Cuba 1973- 1984: Encounters with Fidel Castro

“History will absolve me” shouted Fidel Castro in his long self defence speech to his judges in October 1953, after his defeat by Batista’s forces. My parents had visited Cuba the year before so I was very interested in Cuba and the character of the Batista regime which made a violent popular reaction almost inevitable. I followed the reports in the Vancouver Sun about the eventual victory of Castro’s forces, but little thought I would speak with him personally on two separate occasions and be a part of an audience with him on a third occasion.

Dr. Helen K. Mussallem with Fidel Castro, 1983
Dr. Helen K. Mussallem with Fidel Castro, 1983

My last two conversations with him were most impressive, even though for a short duration. My visits to Cuba began in 1973 when I was asked by the government to be a consultant to assist the Ministry of Health in Cuba to develop a school of nursing in the University of Havana. My first trip was an interesting professional journey travelling as we had to in those days through Mexico City. I remember well the last part of that journey into Havana–travelling alone with little Spanish and no knowledge of Cuba. But the V.I.P. government treatment allayed all fears. That session and the following ones convinced me that Castro was a hero to all and remains as such. But it is difficult to catch even a glimpse of Castro except on state occasions and on May the first celebrations. At such times he speaks very loudly and at great length, somtimes two and a half hours.

When I see him on my television screen he appears to be a loud aggressive man. The paints him as a villain. But when I had my first conversation with him I was amazed.

It was in 1983, when I was the official representative of the World Nurses Association, that I was removed from the audience in the Congress Hall in Havana without explanation. We were all excited because the Hall had been searched and there was a rumour the Castro might appear. An audience never knows in advance. I was taken through long corridors to the back of the Center where I saw a small group of people in a luxurious palm-treed setting. All this was in Spanish but I knew I was to wait for I knew not what. I was the only woman and the only person not fluent in Spanish so I was quite alone until the Director General of the World Health Organization appeared.

He said he thought Fidel might be coming and soon a long black limousine appeared and out came Fidel in full military uniform. He was greeted by the Director General of the World Health Organization and they walked over directly to me. In a very quiet voice, for such a large man, he asked where I was from, how long I had been in Cuba, and what my work was. I then commented that my friends at home would not believe I had chatted with him so he immediately summoned a photographer. When we stood together he said “Hug” and I thought that he had very strong back muscles. I was told later it was a bullet proof vest. When we entered the great hall the applause was thunderous. Fidel asked me to come sit down in front where he was but I didn’t budge.

A year later, in June 1984, I returned to Cuba for an International Congress of Nurses of North and South America. On the last day there was a rumour that Fidel was coming, but his appearances are rare and never known ahead of time. Again, I was plucked out of the hall and again I chatted with him in a private session in the palmed-treed reception room. But this time, when we were ushered on to the stage, I was seated on the right hand side of Fidel Castro. That was very special. At one point in the meeting, at which there was translation services, a nurse stood up and read a long citation about what I had done for the Cuban nurses and the Cuban people. Then the certificate that bore my name and Miembre de Honor was presented to me by Fidel Castro who kissed me on both cheeks and the assembly cheered wildly. After the meeting ended the platform party followed Fidel to his car. In an unscheduled, rare stop he spoke quietly to the small group of official nurses revealing his deep concern about their problems. He said he understood they didn’t all have good watches and good shoes. The nurses responded well. He then inquired about their working conditions and asked for their suggestions on improving the health system. He listened well. We stood and chatted for almost one hour. I don’t think any other President or Prime minister has ever done that. He left quietly with warm good wishes for all. Whenever I hear about this aggressive, cruel Fidel, I know it has been uttered by someone who has never met him as I had. Yet he will still lead his people with dynamism and fervor and, if needed, to defend his country by whatever means are necessary.

2005 Visit to the UBC School of Nursing

These photos are from the February 2005 visit Helen made to the UBC School of Nursing. She had coffee with the faculty and then met with a group of four undergraduate students who were heading to Ghana, and interested in international nursing.


In the hallway of the School, there is a large poster display of the history of the association between UBC and VGH Schools of Nursing. Helen is standing in front of the picture of her in her Directorial role in that poster.


McGill University 7th Honorary Doctorate

Bruce Finlayson:  On the 29th of May 2006, my wife Lyn, her Aunt Helen and I were in Montreal to attend the graduation ceremony at McGill University, where Helen was to receive her seventh honorary doctorate. Aunt Helen was very excited because she received her bachelor degree in nursing from McGill. We drove from Ottawa on a sunny spring day and arrived at the Sofitel in Montreal. We had adjoining rooms, one for Helen and one for Lyn and I.  The hotel was the height of luxury and only a few blocks from McGill. Lyn and I spent the afternoon looking for the perfect evening bag, for Helen to use at the McGill Club formal dinner for all the recipients of Honorary Doctorates.

A little help from friends.
A little help from friends.

The next day we were picked up at the hotel by a taxicab which took us to the university. Once we worked our way through security we were escorted into the building where the robing took place. Here we were met by a whole group of nursing faculty. From attending other events like this I was not surprised by how much these women clearly admired Helen. They gave us seats and refreshments while we waited for the others university officials to show up. The room was filled with racks of colourful robes and various dignitaries and administrators of the university.


Time came for Helen to get ready, and a number of her colleagues from the university helped her into her robes and hat. Then we all walked out into the foyer. Helen signed in the big book, under the watchful eye of the Chancellor, and then it was photo time. A number of pictures were taken of Helen and the other recipient (who it turned out was the head of the Human Genome project), accompanied by various Deans and dignitaries of McGill University. Soon it was nearly time for the ceremony itself to begin. Those of us who were Helen’s guests left the building to walk down the road to the field where an enormous white tent had been erected for the ceremony. As we went down the stairs we saw a piper preparing to march the graduates into the tent.

Helen with McGill Chancellor, President, and Deans
Helen with McGill Chancellor, President, and Deans 
Helen with niece Lyn and Bruce
Helen with niece Lyn and Bruce 

Once we arrived at the tent and showed our tickets to the attendant, we were ushered to the very front row of the audience. After a short time we could hear the pipes in the distance, and it wasn’t long before the dignitaries came marching into the tent led by the piper. Once they had all climbed up onto the stage and taken their seats the ceremony began. The Dean of Nursing of McGill University gave a glowing introduction and summation of Helen’s career and her contribution to nursing. The Chancellor of the university escorted Helen to the podium where he presented her with her honorary Doctorate.

Once all the pomp and ceremony was over we walk back up to the robing building, where we visited with Helen’s other guests and the nursing faculty members before participating in another photo opportunity.

With family and friends after the ceremony.
With family and friends after the ceremony.
With the McGill deans of health faculty and other recipients
With the McGill Chancellor, Deans, and the other recipient