George Post: And you decided then to move right in to the University?
We had a choice, they called them Veteran’s Points. You could have furniture for your house, or you could have land, or you could go to University. So I chose University, and I went to McGill to finish up. I had gone to the University of Washington before; I had some credits there, because it was close to Vancouver. Then I went to McGill, and came back to the Vancouver General to teach, because I was really on leave of absence.
And I taught for two years, then I decided I would like to have my Masters. One other nurse was talking about it. So anyway, down I went to Columbia, and I was the first Canadian down there, and I got through my Masters. Well then you have a taste of what you’d want, for your Doctorate. So I was the first nurse with an earned Doctoral degree, brag brag brag. There are many now, over 80, I’m not sure of the numbers.
Director, VGH School of Nursing, with instructor Ruth (Cochrane) Mann, in the 1950s (photo courtesy Sally Thorne, Ph.D., UBC School of Nursing)
George Post: That post war education program that the Canadian government mounted and offered to service people was an incredible thing. The number of people who came back and really launched quite different careers than they might have if they had not had that education available to them.
I think it was absolutely brilliant and outstanding. People would never have gone on for education. Many of the young boys went on, some of them in medical schools, and so on. It was a wonderful program. Education is the answer. It’s certainly the opportunity. That’s so wonderful that they had that program.
George Post: Was McGill University quite crowded in those years when you came back there?
Yes, I can remember sitting on the steps. All universities were I think, but the only place where I could finish my degree and get credits for what I had was at McGill, and I was glad I went there. Oh yes, you were lucky if you got a chair in those days, and you sat on the steps, but that was ok.
George Post: Well you’ve become a world traveller over the course of your life. Was it this original military service that gave you an interest in travel and exploration?
Well, I can’t say it was. I know that Lyle Creelman was the Chief Nurse in the World Health Organization, and there were many countries wanting expertise. They wanted somebody desperately to carry out a survey of the Caribbean, the twelve Caribbean schools on the twelve islands, the same way as the one that was carried out in Canada. So I was sent down to do that, I got leave of absence with the CNA. And that led on to another one, then they wanted another one done in Europe, and then another one. The next was Africa, they wanted to set up a West African College of Nurses and get them together. So it all started through the World Health Organization. And the countries at that time would not accept a consultant that didn’t have a PhD or a doctorate, and that is why I got on all these ones. There were very few Canadians. I was the only one at the time. So I really was at the right place at the right time.
George Post: So it didn’t go back to some childhood experience of being keenly interested in geography, or loving maps, or something like that?
No. It was just that they wanted the survey done in the Caribbean the same as it was done (in Canada). And I said, “I don’t know if the CNA will let me go, what will happen”. But they said yes, that I could go down, and I followed up for a couple of years, and that led on. I have done projects in 38 countries. I have just listed them. They were not all surveys, some were different assignments. But there were 38 countries altogether that I visited and worked in. Mostly in nursing education that was my (specialty). Yes, it was great. I’ve been fortunate. Now there aren’t the opportunities, because there are so many more people who are well prepared to go. But then I was the only one that went popping around. And it had its difficulties too, you know, because I’d have the job in Ottawa and then I’d have to come back and pick up where I left off, you know what that’s like.
George Post: You clearly have enjoyed and made a great success of your career in nursing. Was there something that was particularly formative back at the Vancouver hospital, or your service in the military, that tipped you towards a determination to improve nursing, or improve nursing schools? Where did you get this sense of mission about the nursing profession?
Well, when I did this survey of schools of nursing across Canada, I got into that quite by accident too. But that started in 1957, to survey the 25 schools of nursing. I didn’t want to do it, I was on the committee and I said, “No, no, no” I didn’t want to leave home, mother and dad weren’t well and so on…. Eventually you get worn down, and I said yes, I’d try. So that started in 1957, and it ended up in 1960 with the Pilot Project. It was the first survey that had been done of schools of nursing, and the hospitals where they got their training since the Weir Survey, the famous Weir Survey, in 1930. He was an educated scholar and he wrote this great report. I couldn’t do that kind of writing, but I just got to it and we did the survey, we had a committee. They sent me down to the United States to observe how the surveys of schools of nursing were done there, and that was key to my learning about it. I really would not have had the skills nor the vision of how to do it.
George Post: Had you already finished your courses at Columbia at this time? This was after your graduation in ’57?
Let’s see, in ’62 I got my doctorate, and I did these things in between, I didn’t do it all at once. Yes.
George Post: It was coincident with your working on your doctorate.
Yes, right. What I was able to do for my doctorate, because it fits right in to that, is I was so interested in getting started. Once I had finished the survey of the schools of nursing in Canada in February, the meeting wasn’t until June and they had no money to pay me. I didn’t want to go all the way home and have to come back, so I decided I’d go down to Columbia, because I’d been there before for my Master’s. Then I decided in 1960, when they accepted the report, that I’d go back and finish my doctorate. I didn’t have very much money, I knew how to make a choice between buying the book or a good meal, but you do it when you are young and it worked out quite well. So, the one survey then led on to all these other surveys, because people saw them and said, oh, that’s what we want in our country, and so on. It seems strange today in the year 2000, almost 2001, talking about it. But we are now referring to the times when there was very little work going on, very few people that were prepared to do it, or people that had the skills to do it. We learned at University, of course, and at other places. I was just at the right place at the right time I guess.
George Post: But you must also have had a sense that there were changes to be made, or that the system did need to be upgraded and improved.and You’ve obviously absorbed, somewhere along your education and experience, some ability to be dissatisfied with poor standards.
Well, that’s interesting. Have you read that book that just came out called Critical Care by Andre Picard, who writes for the Globe and Mail? Well, he quoted me in there; I said “When I was writing the report of the survey of the schools of nursing across Canada, there were sparks coming out of my pen.” I had no idea that places that called themselves schools of nursing were just, well it was indentured labour, I’ve already used that. They just used the students to staff the hospital with. There was such little regard for their education, and they were housed in some of the poorest of circumstances. Not so in the west, but when you got to the Atlantic provinces and going into some little place in Quebec and so on, it was almost unbelievable. And no one could have done those surveys without being as, furious I guess is the word, as I was. That people would say they were educating nurses, and they were just tossing them on the ward to pick up the education they could. And a good Head Nurse was fined, and so on. Oh, it was very primitive, and I really did write with fire coming out of my pen. I couldn’t believe it. And that report really had an impact, because the documentation was all there, everything we saw was well documented, and we had teams of people in different places. And that did make a change. I always hate to admit it. But I wasn’t alone, it was all the people that worked on those surveys that made the change. And it was really quite dramatic when I look back at it, because we could still be struggling through these miserable hospital schools.
(Laughing) I was persecuted by the Hospital Association because they didn’t want to lose their schools. One, prestige, two, cheap labour. I went to one of their meetings, they’d always invite me to their meetings. And at one meeting they talked about this woman that was going around preaching all this stuff about how terrible the hospital schools were, and she should be put in their place. And oh, they were going on. They didn’t even know I was sitting in the back. But they didn’t like me at all, the hospitals. Some of those administrators, for years after, never forgave me. It wasn’t just me, but I was a good target.
George Post: But that’s the sense of mission that is required for change to be brought about.
Oh, I almost could say I was passionate about it. It was so unbelievable what they were trying… Now, some very good nurses came out of it, but that is because they were good intellectual people, or came from homes where there was a good intellectual atmosphere and so on. But certainly the educational system was poor by any standards and they got away with it. Until this project came up and revealed it all. And it was written in such a simple form; I look back on it now, I really couldn’t have made it simpler. I had my Master’s then, but I am really not a scholarly writer, I can write factually and I can do that reasonably well. But, well, the evidence was so clear. Anyone else could have done it but it just happened that I was selected and I was there. And one thing, I don’t have many strengths but if I have something to do, I put all my energy into getting it done, and then I rest back. Some people can take little rest pauses and so on, but I have to get it done.
At McGill University, in the late 1940’s, an active social life.
Helen’s secondment to the Royal Commission was a stimulating and memorable time for her but she had barely completed writing her final report when she was approached to become Executive Director of the Canadian Nurses Association. With alacrity, she refused to assume that “old maid job”. When negotiations with another candidate failed, Helen was asked to become “acting Executive Director for four months” , until a suitable person could be found. The minutes of the 21-23 of February 1963 meeting state:
(Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting – 21,22,23 Feb 63)
It was moved by the Rev. Sister Decary and seconded by Miss Agnes Maloney
“‘That the President be authorized to name the committee to implement the resolution.”
The meeting recessed at 12: 30 p.m. for lunch which was served in the Basement Board Room.
Acting Executive Director: The President called the meeting to order at 1:55 p.m. and advised the Executive Committee that Dr. Helen Mussallem, had consented to be the Acting Executive Director, following Miss Stiver’s retirement on April 30, 1963, until the new appointment of Executive Director is made.
I.C.N. Board Meeting: It was announced that the President would be attending the Board Meetings of the International Council of Nurses, in Geneva, in August, 1963. It was unanimously agreed that Dr. Mussallem would accompany Miss MacLennan to the Board Meetings.
Red Cross International Study Centre: The President reported that the Red Cross International Study Centre was being held in Lausanne, Switzerland, August 19-23, 1963. The members of the Executive agreed that Dr. Mussallem should attend the Red Cross International Study Centre which is being held following the I.C.N. Board Meeting.
World Federation of Mental Health: The Executive Committee authorized the President to represent the Canadian Nurses’ Association at the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the World Federation of Mental Health in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July 22-26, 1963.
Report of Selections Committee: On the President’s request, Mrs Isobel MacLeod took the chair and the President as Chairman of the Selections Committee presented her report, for the information of the Executive.
It was reported that at the meeting of the Sub-Committee of the Executive Committee on October 18, 1962, the elected Officers were named as a Selections Committee to consider the replacement of the Executive Director. This committee met on October 18 and gave consideration to the names of several persons. The Chairman was authorized to invite letters of application from these persons.
Subsequently, it was felt advisable to publicize the vacancies in national office more widely and an advertisement was placed in The Canadian Nurse Journal and letters were sent to the Executive Secretaries of the Provincial Associations and Directors of University Schools of Nursing.
A roster of names has been compiled and these applications are presently being processed.
The President resumed the chairmanship of the meeting.
DATE AND PLACE OF NEXT MEETING: The next meeting of the Executive Committee, Canadian Nurses’ Association, will be held in Ottawa, Canada, on February 13, 14~ 15, 1964.
ADJOURNMENT: There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 2:05 p.m. on motion of Miss Claudia Tennant.
Again, Helen requested an extension of her leave of absence from the Vancouver General Hospital and again they complied.
While in Vancouver in late April 1963 to give a keynote address to the Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia annual meeting, Helen went home to Haney for the weekend.
There she saw in the Vancouver Sun (or Province) a large picture of herself announcing her appointment not as “Acting Executive Director” but as Executive Director of CNA. She cried, quietly, “Foul!” On her return to National Office, Helen asked Penny Stiver, the incumbent Executive Director, what had happened. Penny said that she had consulted with Gordon Henderson, CNA’s legal counsel and a highly respected lawyer, nationally and internationally, about Helen’s appointment. Mr. Henderson advised that, as CNA was involved with purchase of land, etc. for a new headquarters, the photo should bear the name of the executive director. So, without consultation, the change was made. Helen understood.
The big day –May 1, 1963 –arrived. With trepidation, Helen sat in the Executive Director’s Chair at 74 Stanley Avenue for the very first time. She felt so alone. Then, the phone rang and it was Laura Barr, Executive Director of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. How supportive and how heart-warming! As the day wore on, more and more calls were received –not only from nurse colleagues but from other health organizations, government officials and a large number of nongovernmental organizations.
The die was cast –for four months. All went well until Helen asked the President, Elect MacLennan, to whom she should turn over the Executive Director responsibilities on completion of her term. Electa was so convincing. She asked the Acting Executive Director if she could stay on just until the 1964 biennial meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland. What a blockbuster meeting that was! CNA outsmarted the Canadian Medical Association by having Mr. Justice Emmett Hall address CNA’s meeting -which just happened to coincide with the CMA meetings. He could have addressed the CMA but he chose CNA. What a coup! Also, Mr. Canada, John Fisher, came to inspire CNA members about Expo 67. Dr. Naegle was there too, addressing the membership on the proposed study of nursing education in Canada. Little did they, and Helen, know that it would be the last time they would see him.
Appointment as Executive Director of the Canadian Nurses Association (5.4.2)
Helen remembers well her trepidation and enthusiasm that first day as Executive Director of CNA. As it was only a four-month appointment, she did not have an orientation or a position description. In those days, there was little emphasis on such frivolities –one just got on with the job.
The fledgling Executive Director had no idea of all that the position entailed but there were a few onerous tasks which loomed on the horizon in addition to the day-to-day “running of National Office”. A search for a suitable site on which to build a CNA National Headquarters was required, and Helen was determined to persuade the President and Executive Committee of the need for a national library resource which she had sorely missed while completing the Pilot Project. She also perceived a very great need for a proper statistical program. There had also been a very strong lobby for the Canadian Nurses Association to host the 1969 Quadrennial Congress of the International Council of Nurses. All of these projects were formidable, of course, but Helen was excited to be getting on with some interesting projects.
CNA had recently undergone a structure study in which the National Office at 74 Stanley Avenue was reorganized. At that time, CNA rented space from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons headquarters where it occupied the second floor. Space for staff was reasonably adequate and the Board room was available for CNA use when the College wasn’t using it. This could be quite inconvenient. Another irritant was that there were only two toilets for CNA’s 16-29 female employees. Undaunted, the new Executive Director would use the toilet (forbidden to CNA staff) that was reserved for the College President.
One day, while using the forbidden toilet because she thought the President and everyone else was away, Helen heard three men speaking as they entered the washroom. She was frantic! There she was, seated on the john, trapped! As the men entered, the ever-resourceful Executive Director got off the seat, put her two feet on top of the toilet seat and hung on for dear life. One of the men was Dr. Graham, position, the other, the President and the last was the head of the Finance Committee. As the men performed the necessary functions and were chatting away, Helen thought, “Oh boy, if I make a sound… Dear God, don’t let me slip!” When the three men left, having completed their ablutions, a trembling Helen climbed down off the toilet and never used it again. Sometime later, she told this story to Dr. Graham and he thought it was very funny but, at the time, it was anything but humorous to her.
Alternate unedited version of the preceding story:
There were other humorous, and not so humorous, events that could be recalled. As tenants on the upper floor of the magnificent building owned by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (RCPS) there were certain restrictions imposed. The large office space was completely ours to use as well as the en suite bathroom. But the elegant Board Room had to be booked well in advance for our (CNA) Board meetings. Even then we were not always certain that the College might not have an emergency meeting and we would have the onerous task of rescheduling our meeting. Another area that I was told, on several occasions, was not for our use was the Presidents (RCPS) washroom. As we had only two toilets for our entire female staff I used The Presidents Toilet that was adjacent to my office, always ensuring first that the RCPS President was not in the building. One day I was too busy to look over the railing down to the executive offices to determine if the president was in Ottawa. When seated on the toilet, that was sectioned off in the president’s washroom with partial walls that were opened about 40 cm from the floor up to about 1 1/2 m, I heard three male voices. Yes, they belonged to the president, the general secretary and the executive secretary. What to do: I couldn’t escape without being noticed and by the time I did that, the flies would probably be unzipped. So I crawled up the toilet and put one foot on either side of the toilet and hung on by grasping—with finger tips only—the top of the partial wall. I heard all the noises and conversation and then they left. I climbed down cautiously and dashed back to my office, never to use that toilet again—well almost never. The RCPS Staff were very impressed with my interest in the visit by their president. They thought I was anxious about the extension of the lease and assured me that I was not to worry.
When I was thrust into the post, in May 1963, I had some doubts about my preparation for the position of chief executive officer of a large national organization. My experience as Director of the Vancouver General Hospital School of Nursing; my doctoral studies in the administration of higher education; and my doctoral dissertation had been opportunities to hone my administrative skills but I was apprehensive about my ability to administer such a large, complex enterprise. There was no center, at that time, for additional preparation of CEOs but I believed the principles I had learned during my educational preparation could be applied. This was true to some extent but the role of the CEO was a relatively unknown field in those days.
In 1963, I wrote at the back of my daily calendar:
– A function of management is to establish policies for the control of activities in general and, by way of contrast, to the functions of management, those of the administrator spring from converting policy into practice.
– A good administrator must make the most effective use of existing or available skills.
I found no “existing or available” management skills at CNA headquarters in 1963 so I greeted, with great enthusiasm, the arrival of Lillian Pettigrew on 3 February 1964. She had been Executive Director of the Manitoba Association of Registered Nurses. In our first interview, Lillian told me that one of the great joys of her life was to prepare and finalize the minutes of meetings. Glory halleluiah! There was nothing I could do less well than prepare and write minutes. I was always more interested in action “-in the meetings themselves, the strategy, etc.
And Lillian wrote exquisite minutes.
During my visit with family in Haney, it became obvious that my father’s health was gradually deteriorating. Although he had Parkinson’s Disease his primary health concerns were now related to his abdominal condition. Dad was very proud of my achievements and, especially, of this latest appointment. Fortunately, he was a very successful businessman –and politician –so finances allowed for a permanent practical nurse/housekeeper to help mother meet his health needs. Both were positive and uncomplaining. Occasionally, however, mother was distressed to realize that, after working so hard all their lives, now, when the time had come to enjoy the fruits of their labours, Dad was unable to do so. This visit was the last time I saw Dad alive. I continued to telephone every week (usually Sunday) when possible, and did so on 23 June 1963. Dad was in hospital so the nurse brought him the phone. His voice was clear but weaker.
He told me that my three brothers and two sisters had been in touch with him that day. His last words to me were “Carry on”.
Although I was now CNA Executive Director, I was still required to appear before the Royal Commission on Health Services. My last “interrogation” was scheduled for 24 June 1963 and, although full of grief, I was determined to keep my appointment. I asked Mr. Bleshin, Director of Research, not to tell anyone about Dad’s death as I was afraid I would break down should anyone offer sympathy. The discussions went well and, when they were completed, Mr. Bleshin accompanied me to the elevator. I was too numb to talk. CNA staff were so very supportive.
Georgina Clarke, Director of Administration, had parked her car on Wellington Street so that I could be immediately whisked away to the airport.
Special Projects (Library, Statistics) (5.4.3)
One goal which CNA’s new Executive Director was determined to accomplish was to establish a National Library so Canadian nurses and others would have access to the resources she had so desperately missed while completing the Pilot Project for the Evaluation of Schools of Nursing in Canada. The first task was to find a suitable Librarian. The Executive Committee gave permission for CNA to hire a part-time Librarian and Helen interviewed all of the applicants. One person –Margaret Parkin –stood out above all the rest. Margaret, however, wanted a full-time position with a specialty library. As it turned out, she was the most suitable candidate for the position and was eventually hired.
When Margaret Parkin came to National Office at 74 Stanley Avenue, CNA’s Library was a pile of 350 outdated books stacked in the corner. Together, Margaret and Helen established a library that today serves not only nurses but the whole health community and others from all across Canada.
Helen’s second self-appointed task was to find a person qualified to establish a statistical program. She was very fortunate to recruit Lois Graham Cumming who had married a Canadian and had recently relocated from Washington, D.C. where she had been with NIH. Lois developed a tremendous statistical program which was the envy of other associations and was used extensively by governments and others.
Helen recalls many humorous events which took place at 74 Stanley. She remembers, vividly, two visiting nurses from Africa who had come to CNA as part of a world-wide tour. On the day of their visit, it was Ramadan and, of course, they were not allowed to eat between sunrise and sundown. The older nurse was obviously very devoted and went on talking with Helen all morning and until noon and past. Sandwiches, which were made by the superintendent’s wife, were delivered but she didn’t eat. The younger visitor finally asked Helen if she could speak with her in the washroom. She said, “I am so hungry. Don’t tell my friend but I would like to have something to eat.” Helen brought her some sandwiches which she ate in the toilet. That evening, CNA’s Executive Director invited the international visitors to dinner at the Chateau Laurier Grill which was one of the best dining places in all of Ottawa. It was a glorious meal with a huge hind of beef served on a gorgeous silver tray with a great silver cover on it. Both ladies ordered the roast beef. The famished senior nurse quickly polished off her dinner and then said she would like to have another piece of beef. Helen informed the waiter. The waiter called the head waiter who asked Helen to speak with him away from the table. Apologetically, he advised that if the lady had another piece of beef, he would have to charge her for two meals. “Well, go ahead,” said Helen. So, CNA’s African visitor made up for the meal she missed between sunrise and sundown and was probably surprised that her companion was satisfied with the meal that had been served to them.
Then there were the visits of Ottawa Mayor, Dr. Charlotte Whitton. The first time she came to my office, she simply barged in. No appointment — no nothing. She plunked herself down in the chair opposite mine and inexplicably said, “I bet Queen Victoria wouldn’t know what to do with a pregnant soldier.” I hardly had time to turn this sentence around in my mind before she told me she was producing a film of interviews with “prominent Ottawa women” and I was to be one.
Enough said — I was interviewed. It was a long, time-consuming assignment. Dr. Whitton always called me at 6:30 P.M., often when I was preparing dinner for guests. One never said “no” or “I’m too busy now” to Charlotte Whitton. Our conversations would take up to half an hour so I learned to put the phone on the kitchen counter and say into the receiver from time to time, “very interesting Dr. Whitton”. I eventually learned that her comment about Queen Victoria referred to the her significant role in arranging for assistance for women in the armed services, from overseas or in other locations across Canada, who became pregnant out of wedlock and required rehabilitation.
Throughout the period 1 May 1963 to 1 April 1966, I was fortunate to lead a very hard-working and supportive staff — two of whom at the time of writing (1995) are still valued CNA staff members, namely, Pat Mohr and Pierrette Hotte. Both have advanced to senior positions and their supervisor, Beryl Darling still maintains contact. Others who contributed, significantly, were Lillian Pettigrew (now deceased) who was Associate Executive Director; June (Ferguson) Graeme Fraser who was Public Relations Officer; Georgina Clarke (now deceased) who was Office Manager, and Mr. Ernest Van Raalte, who conducted the Stevenson-Kellogg study on the structure of CNA and later became General Manager. His structural plan was approved by the Executive Committee but was never readily understood by me. Its main purpose was to integrate the staff of The Canadian Nurse/L’infirmiere canadienne with CNA staff. The integration was successful but I found that having professional staff report to me through a non-nurse was not workable. Many modifications were made and approved by the Executive Committee. Already mentioned were two senior staff members who made a significant impact on Canadian nursing, namely, Margaret Parkin, Librarian and Lois Graham-Cumming, Statistician. Although I had authority to hire only a part-time Librarian, when M. Parkin came along and would work only full-time, her expertise was essential to develop the kind of library I had envisioned so I brought her on staff and my decision was not questioned -especially when her sterling qualities became known to the Executive Committee.
These were some of the staff at the 74 Stanley Avenue location but, in the beginning of my tenure at CNA, both professional and support staff were very small in number.
First International Initiatives 1963 (5.4.5)
My first, major responsibility as CNA Executive Director was to attend two international meetings. I had hardly warmed the seat of my chair when I accompanied the CNA President to the Grand Council Meetings of International Council of Nurses (now Council of National Representatives -CNR) held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1963. I remember well the tiny room in John Mott House where representatives met. John Mott House is located just a few meters from ICN’s present headquarters at 3, place Jean-Marteau (rue de l’ancien port). One of the most controversial subjects at that, my first ICN meeting, was related to the move of ICN headquarters from London to Geneva. Much emotion was attached to this issue as ICN began in the U.K. where great leadership had been provided in ICN’s initial and formative years and, indeed, up to 1963. Other items of interest to me were the ICN program relating to nursing education and nursing service. I was fascinated to hear the comments of member presidents from far away countries in Africa, South America, India, the Middle East, etc. This was the very first time I had ever been in a room with so many international nurses and I was excited and intimidated. Little did I know, at that time, what the future held for me. The financial reports were also intriguing as we tried to work with both British Pounds and Swiss Francs. The move of ICN staff to Geneva was also cause for tension. Pence and francs were carefully guarded. My main role was to advise the CNA President, Electa MacLennan, but I did speak up when I had something to add to the debate. At that meeting I also learned of the high regard with which the Canadian delegation was held, due in no small measure to the reputation of Lester B. Pearson.
Immediately following the ICN session in Geneva, I attended meetings of the International Red Cross Society in Lausanne, Switzerland, This time, I was on my own, representing Canada with a senior member of the Canadian Red Cross, Helen MacArthur. Helen was well known in international circles and was very highly respected. Once again, I was thrilled with the international milieu. Discussions were fascinating and touched on all aspects of the work of the International Committee of Red Cross Societies and the Red Crescent. I was much impressed with the discussions on the Rights of Nurses under the Geneva Convention as I had little knowledge then of the many critical situations facing nurses at that time.
As always, then and now, there were a number of elaborate receptions. I recall one that was hosted by the head of the Canton of Viau. He spoke with me in French and uncertain English, and I responded in English and uncertain French. He insisted on driving me, and three others, to our hotels. He dropped the other three off, one by one, and, in doing so, passed my hotel twice. Each time, I said “Chez moi,” but he kept driving. When my colleagues had all left, he parked the car and my worst fears became a reality. Now, how does one handle this situation without creating an international incident? We had a real tussle but he eventually gave up and, as he drove me back to my hotel, he said three times, “You are a wet blankette”.
Despite his lack of fluent English, he managed to convey his summary of me very well!
Instead of returning directly to Ottawa, my staff persuaded me to “take a week off” as I had been working a seven-day week of mostly ten to twelve hour days. I chose to go to Paris and then on to London. All was arranged by Cooks Tours.
I saw everything a tourist should see in Paris –Le Louvre (so disappointed with the Mona Lisa; I liked Winged Victory much better); VersaiIle, the Eiffel Tower, the Left Bank, the magnificent cathedrals, Place Pigalle (wow!) etc.
One of my main objectives in Paris was to follow the advice of my hairdresser at Friemans Antoinne Salon in Ottawa and visit the world’s master hairdresser, Antoine, at 3, rue Cambon, in Paris to buy a really superior wig. We wore them often in those days … real wigs made from real hair. I used wigs, complete with hat box, when travelling during the Pilot Project for the Evaluation of Schools of Nursing. What an experience! I arrived at Antoine’s at 09:00 and sat in a posh area awaiting THE MASTER. Around 10:00, a tall, fashionably-dressed man, with painted fingernails and outlandish shoes, breezed in followed by an entourage of young men who adoringly watched his every move. He passed the glass coffin (readied, I was told, for the Great Man Himself) and went to the etageres returning with three wigs. Without saying a word, he came to where I was seated, passed his painted fingernails through my hair –and said something like “ugh”. He then flourished each wig next to my hair, as the spellbound young men looked on, until He finally decided on one of the three. He asked that I be “preparer” for the transformation. My own hair was washed and dried with the entourage looking on. Then THE WIG was put on and curled on my head!?! I, and my wig, sat under the dryer and, when the appropriate time came, I was pulled out. All the while, I wondered how much all of this would cost as I had a limited amount of money with me and no credit card. Well, when I emerged from under the dryer, complete with wig, I must admit it all looked good –very good. Delicately, I asked for “l’addition” –$300 U.S. That was like $1,000 Canadian today and, luckily, I had exactly $300 left in traveller’s cheques. I departed. No receipts. No nothing. Not at Chez Antoinne!
On arrival at Heathrow Airport in London, I looked for a uniformed Cook’s representative as I had in Paris where he had spotted me right away. In London, however, I looked around and, as no representative approached me, I picked up my luggage and headed off to hail a cab. Noticing a man in a Cook’s uniform, I casually asked if he knew who had been sent to meet Dr. Mussallem. Startled, he responded, “It’s me!” When I told him I was Dr. Mussallem, Executive Director of CNA, he apologized and said he had been looking for someone who fit the picture of an Executive Director of a women’s organization –someone “much older”. He had seen me deplane but was sure this chic young lady in mauve chiffon and beautifully coifed hair was not his person. What wonders Antoine had worked in Paris! My driver escorted me by Cook’s private limousine to the elegant Mayfair Hotel and “the nightingales sang in Berkley Square”. He told me that his evening was free and he would be delighted to take me out “privately”, i.e., at his own expense. Amused, I said I was very tired after Paris (I wasn’t) but perhaps another time. He gave me all the coupons and mounds of material for my London stay –and departed.
As I thought I might not see London again (my first visit had been during WWII when all the guards were in khaki), I saw all the usual tourist sites and was impressed with the reconstruction since the bombings I had witnessed during the war. One humorous incident took place on my last “free” day in London. It was a grey, drizzly day and, as I had planned to go to ICN’s headquarters on Dean Tench Street, I thought I should wear some sort of protection for my shoes so I would not soil the carpets. I had seen pictures of the entrance hall of ICN’s London headquarters and I didn’t think mud would look too good on those antique carpets. On Regent Street, I spotted two middle-aged ladies waiting for a bus and asked them, very politely and innocently, where I might buy some rubbers. Dressed in my raincoat, I followed their directions and walked three blocks down, turned left and found a chemist’s shop. It was not until I got there that it dawned on me that the ladies had misunderstood what I meant when I asked for rubbers. Even though we speak the same language in both countries, there are flaws in our communication.
On my return to Canada and CNA, there was a great accumulation of correspondence awaiting attention, documents requiring study and action, many articles to be read, and decisions to be made. Staff members with problems required immediate appointments, reports had to be written for the Executive Committee, meetings of external committees must be attended, and some social functions required my attendance. In short, there was what was to become the usual post-field trip, back-breaking workload to deal with.
The dust had scarcely settled when I received a call from Lyle Creelman, Chief Nurse at the World Health Organization, asking me to attend a WHO Scientific Meeting on Research in Nursing. She made it quite clear that this was a highly-prestigious meeting attended by only a few select experts, worldwide. As this was a WHO Scientific Group on Health, three especially-qualified public health doctors must attend and, as it involved nursing and research, there would also be three nurse experts in research in attendance. I was asked to be the member from the Americas. The public health physicians were selected from the U.K., the Middle East and Greece. I remember so fondly my flight to Geneva. It was first class all the way, such a contrast from flying “steerage” on the old North Star planes. That meeting, convened at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, remains in my memory one of those extra special events. We gathered the first morning to find one of our delegates, Dr. Ewing from the U.K., missing. Dr. Candau, WHO Director-General, greeted us at that initial meeting and asked that a chairman be elected. After his greeting and a general outline of the goals of the meeting, he called for nominations and the election of a Chair. First thing I knew, my name was proposed and I was asked if I would accept the Chair. Modestly I responded, “Yes, if I am elected.” He replied, “You have just been elected. Please take the Chair.” What I didn’t know then was that all of this had been arranged ahead of time. After I mumbled a few words, Lyle Creelman advised that we should wait for the U.K. representative to join us so I called for adjournment. This gave me an opportunity to review the agenda and to determine what my responsibilities would be during the week’s session. We reconvened about 11:00, with Dr. Ewing present, and I made a few introductory remarks. Dr. Ewing then asked for the floor, and floored us by advising that he was late because he failed to see the reason for the meeting. “Surely,” he remarked, “you don’t think nurses do research. Nursing is not a pure science.” Flabbergasted, we tried to remain calm and provide him with a rational explanation, i.e., that nursing was an applied science and, indeed, was a subject for research. He just sat there, in a state of gloom. When we recessed for lunch, I rushed over to the smartest and cutest member of the group and told her that she must invite Dr. Ewing to lunch and enlighten him on nursing research. He was more compliant after lunch, and my co-conspirator later told me he had been resistant but listened well.
The WHO meetings were intense, with much heated debate. I recall, during one discussion, Dr. Vellorous of Greece came forth with what I thought was a good point. As Chairman, I asked “Dr. Vellorous, would you like to throw out that idea?” “No, Madam Chair,” he said “I want to throw it in.”
In addition to the lengthy and exhausting sessions, each day we had to check the report being written by the rapporteurs for accuracy, style, etc. It was a trying job but, eventually, by Saturday morning, we had concluded the meetings and a rough draft of the report had been written. As a reward for all of this sustained labour, we were invited to spend the weekend at Lyle Creelman’s chalet at Champery, in nearby France. What a glorious time we had with Lyle and Margaret Scott-Wright. We did have some difficulty in getting to the chalet, however, as part of the road was washed out and we had to crawl along on logs with our supplies strapped to our backs. When I arrived at the end of the log, Lyle was hysterical with laughter. She said she couldn’t believe that the First Scientific Group on Nursing Research had fallen to the level of crawling on logs across deep ravines –such a contrast to our lofty and proper posture at the WHO meetings in Geneva!
The return trip to Ottawa was on Swiss Air, First Class. Life doesn’t get much better. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the steward came to me with a silver tray loaded with Iranian caviar and champagne. I, of course, immediately looked at my watch but he reassured me that it was proper to drink at that hour as, in the air, time didn’t count. That was my first real taste of caviar and I have loved it ever since!
CNA Initiatives (5.4.6)
My first two international assignments (ICN-Geneva and Red CrossLausanne) gave me a peek into the expansive, wonderful and intriguing world of health at the national and international level. When I returned to Ottawa and National Office internal and external work seemed to be progressing reasonably well, I reminded the CNA President that my four month commitment to CNA was nearing an end. She assured me that the Executive Committee was searching for a replacement but would I consider staying, just until the June 1964 biennial meeting. There was still much work to be done following our presentation of briefs (in 1963) to the Special Committee on Aging, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism and the Canadian Conference on Mental Retardation. As I was able to get an extension of my leave of absence from Vancouver General Hospital, I agreed. Little did I know then that there were many exciting projects coming up and that I might soon have an Associate Executive Director to share the increasingly-heavy burdens of my office.
A whole new world opened for me in 1964. CNA seemed to plunge into high gear. Among the activities which stimulated CNA and its staff were:
– Three projects arising from the recommendations of the PPESN were getting underway: The School Improvement Program being directed by Glenna Rowsell; The Evaluation of Quality being directed by Lillian Campion; and the Study of Nursing Education headed by Kaspar Naegle.
– Initiation of the statistical program, involving all provincial associations in the collection of data on the total nurse population in Canada. (Prior to this, the only statistics available were the number of nurses who belonged to their provincial nurses’ association.)
– Reactivation of the Nursing Research Index. Initial work on this project revealed that there were over 100 known studies on nursing in Canada. These were collected and listed in a card index.
– The CNA/CMA/CHA Liaison Committee agreed that, whenever possible, a tripartite approach should be made to the federal government.
– CNA established a Standing Committee on Social and Economic Welfare. Its establishment was fraught with opposition from those provincial associations which strongly believed that collective bargaining was “not professional”. They were deeply concerned that nurses might even contemplate “going on strike”.
– A very active National Office Auxiliary kept me busy in an effort to find suitable tasks for them. They were a sincere, knowledgeable group but I was unsuccessful in setting up a meaningful program.
– An unofficial communication from the National League tor Nursing (NLN) in the U.S. conveyed the serious news that the NLN was considering the withdrawal of NLN exams in jurisdictions outside the U.S. An ad hoc committee was appointed to look at ways and means of solving this problem. Perhaps six provincial associations were using the exams for students seeking registration in their province.
– Legal matters relating to the use, by White Sister Uniform Company, of the new CNA logo — the leaf and the lamp – on their uniforms.
– CNA was asked to participate in Expo ’67.
– My doctoral dissertation was published with the title Development of Nursing Education Programs Within the General Educational System of Canada. It sold for $3.00 each and was reprinted twice.
– A strategy was developed to propose Alice Girard as President of ICN. I sent letters, requesting support for the nomination of Alice Girard, to 58 ICN member countries. (At the 1965 Quadrennial Congress, she was elected by acclamation.)
On invitation, Alice Smith and I worked very hard to develop a Centennial Project. The plan was to have nurses from the southern belt of Canada exchange positions with northern nurses for a two-week period so more nurses might be attracted to “north of 60”, where they were really needed. Alice developed an exquisite plan and presented it to the Board, using suitable visual aids. The Board raised all sorts of obstacles, and our inspired project, which we called “Northern Lamp”, was snuffed out.
Joint Committee of CNA/CMA/CHA
As Director of Special Studies, I soon realized that there were of number of “external” boards or committees on which I sat by virtue of my position as CNA Executive Director. Two of these ‘Joint” boards were the Nursing Unit Administration program (CNA and CHA) and the CMA/CNA/CHA Committee on Nursing. In 1964, at the request of CNA, the CMA/CNA/CHA Committee on Nursing changed its name to the Joint Committee of CMA/CNA/CHA to reflect a change in focus and to facilitate discussion on matters relating to all three organizations, rather than on problems which dealt only with nursing.
The Nursing Unit Administration (NUA) program was unique in North America as it was sponsored by two national, voluntary organizations. It began, prior to my tenure as Executive Director, in response to a recognized need to upgrade the management skills of nurse managers (head nurses) in acute care hospitals. When I became Executive Director, the course was still in its formative stage but, due to the expertise and skill of the director of the program, Kathleen Ruane, the program progressed “on course” and was meeting its objectives. When I attended my first NUA meeting, I detected tension between CHA and CNA representatives. CHA members believed that they should have sole authority in setting the direction for the course since it was directed at head nurses in “their hospitals”. This was a futile posture, however, since the Kellogg grant which initially founded the program had been adamant that CNA should be an equal partner in the program.
The CMA/CNA/CHA Joint Committee on Nursing, renamed the Liaison Committee of CMA/CNA/CHA, was, to some extent, a revelation of the emerging importance of CNA in the tripartite world of health. CNA had equal, joint, permanent representation with CHA and CMA on this committee.
I remember well my first meeting with this tripartite group. The entire agenda was compiled of a list of problems in nursing which the other two organizations were going to solve. I should state, parenthetically, that this committee first came into being during periods in WWII when there was a severe shortage of nurses in hospitals and the medical and hospital associations discussed this problem at great length, with questionable success. When I became CNA Executive Director, I became aware of the joint committee discussions through minutes of meetings and other documents. I was, however, shocked to find that CNA was being placed in the position of accepting advice from CMA and CHA as to action it should take in relation to nursing’s problems but that CNA’s advice on the problems facing medicine and hospitals was neither sought nor wanted. Without previous discussion with my president, Electa MacLennan, I innocently — and boldly — asked why the problems of medicine and hospitals were not being discussed at the meeting as well. Dr. Young, the external chair of the committee, replied that those problems could be discussed at the next meeting. I became concerned that I might have caused a disruption of the committee which might have serious consequences. At our next meeting, CHA representatives appeared at the appointed time but CMA members were absent. About 15 minutes late, in they marched — in single file, and sat down. Before the meeting could be called to order, CMA stated its position: they were unwilling to have any discussion of CMA concerns brought to the meeting. They would withdraw first! After somewhat cordial, if tense, discussion of agenda items, the CMA President, Dr. Frank Turnbull, said that he did not know the real value of the committee other than it provided an opportunity, twice yearly, for the presidents and executive directors of the three organizations to sit across the table and have a good, free-flowing discussion. This, he believed, was worthwhile. The day and the committee was saved. Subsequent, recorded actions of this committee suggest that Dr. Turnbull was right.
My relationship with the Canadian Nurses Foundation (CNF) was interesting and varied from great hope to despair as to its future and its goal of providing selected nurses with the opportunity to pursue graduate education. My commitment and dedication to this goal was another spin-off from my cross-Canada surveys of nursing education in both hospital and university schools of nursing. I knew that, if nursing service was to improve, the education of nurses for that service must, likewise, be improved. Along with many other “senior” nurses, I recognized that advanced education for nurses was imperative if nurses were to be accepted as an equal voice in the decision-making circles of the health care system. A personal note adds validity to this statement. As CNA’s Director of Special Studies (1960-63) I attended the CMA CHA CNA Committee meetings to report on the status of nursing education in Canada and to describe to the committee the projects undertaken by CNA which had been initiated as a result of the recommendations of my Pilot Project on the Evaluation of Schools of Nursing. The first meeting I attended was held at CMA headquarters in Toronto. The group from CNA entered the committee room through the side door. All other representatives seemed to come from somewhere else. At the next meeting, after I obtained my doctorate in 1962, I was met at the front door by the CMA General Secretary. I was astounded to be ushered in, to walk on the richly-carpeted hallway, and to be told that the CMA president would like to see me. Three times I was referred to as DOCTOR Mussallem. Then, I was taken to the committee room at the rear of the building. I was suspicious that my doctorate (the first earned by a nurse in Canada) might have been responsible for this unusual gesture and the CNA Executive Director, Penny Stiver, confirmed my suspicion.
In 1961, while I was Director of Special Studies, the CNA Executive Committee -influenced, perhaps, by the findings of the Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing –decided that “… the time had come when the Canadian Nurses Association should consider establishing a foundation”. A Special Committee, called the Canadian Nurses Association Foundation, was created in 1961 to work out the details necessary to establish such a foundation.
In February 1962, the Special Committee, Canadian Nurses’ Association Foundation, presented its report. The Executive Committee decided at this meeting that the Foundation would be known as the Canadian Nurses Foundation (CNF), and that its purposes would be: to provide financial support in the form of awards to nurses pursuing graduate studies at the masters and doctoral levels; to provide grants for nursing research; and to administer funds donated to the Foundation for the above purposes. CNF came into being in 1962 when the Kellogg Foundation awarded CNA a donation of $150,000 (U.S.). The preparation of the brief for the Kellogg Foundation requesting $150,000 (U.S.) for the establishment of CNF (and the accompanying strategies) and CNA’s success in obtaining these funds – to be spread over a five year period –was due primarily to the expert and scholarly work of Katherine MacLaggan. The CNA Executive Committee was preparing to have this Foundation set up within CNA but as the Kellogg Foundation required a receipt from a “charitable” agency for income tax purposes, a foundation was created by CNA to facilitate this request. In the early years of the Foundation, office space and administrative services were provided by CNA.
When the Kellogg grant arrived in Ottawa, CNF was advised that the amount allocated for 1962 scholarships must be awarded before the end of August 1962. Word of the new scholarships was disseminated and a number of applications were received at CNA headquarters. Then, I gather, a Selections Committee needed to be appointed. As it was early August, few staff or other suitable persons were available. I had just successfully defended my doctoral dissertation at Columbia and had returned to Ottawa, as promised. On arrival, I was advised that I was to work with Katherine MacLaggan to select the first “scholars”.
At the appointed time, I met with Katherine in her room at the Chateau Laurier. We worked very hard to develop criteria and to assess each application. A decision had to be made. Should all applications be ranked and scholarships awarded to only the top few, or should we ensure that each application was “worthy of an award” and spread the money over the qualified candidates? After assuring ourselves that each candidate merited an award, we chose the latter option. Two applications were rejected due to incomplete documentation. All the monies for 1962 were disseminated and, in retrospect, I believe we did an exceptional job.
In May of 1963, when I became CNA Executive Director, I inherited the responsibility for the administration of CNF. The monies from Kellogg were well used on fellowship and scholarship awards as, initially, CNA bore the entire administrative costs. However, the CNF Board, composed of half CNF members and half CNA members, had great ideas about CNF’s potential as a free-standing organization without CNA connections or controls. The CNF Board was appointed, and the part-time Executive Director (Lois Graham-Cumming) designated a member in each province as a CNF representative. The provincial associations were by-passed and, indeed, CNF attempted to set up an organization as “strong and powerful” as CNA. They would be free to solicit large sums of money for CNF and not “be hampered” by CNA. This “completely separate” organization did not survive for long and, in 1966, CNF became more closely allied with CNA while maintaining its separate identity as required by the Letters Patent. I later became Executive Secretary/Treasurer of CNF.
One of CNF’s perennial problems was always to find sufficient funds to maintain the scholarship program. The need was very great and hardly any other monies were available for nursing students studying at the masters or doctoral level. When the Kellogg money ran out, great efforts were made to obtain more funds but results were dismal. Each Selections Committee was faced with the problem of making awards with shrinking budgeted funds. One year, in the early 70s, when Glennis Zilm, Assistant Editor, was writing an article for The Canadian Nurse, she asked me what would be done at the next Selections Committee as funds were so low. I said, “Let’s go for broke!” She published my remark and, due to the efforts of provincial associations (some gave a yearly donation based on membership), the funds grew and then stabilized. It was a real roller coaster ride and I spent many of my precious “extra hours” doing CNF work. Often, I was asked why I worked so hard for CNF. My answer was honest and simple. When I studied for my masters and doctoral degrees with a very small income –having to decide between buying a book or eating dinner –I became dedicated to doing what I could, in my lifetime, to prevent others from facing similar circumstances.
George Post: Would you describe your childhood as a happy childhood?Oh yes, I’d have no difficulty answering that, because we were happy at home. We had lots. And when I look back now, we had our little fights I presume and so on, but we got along well. When we got into the car each one of us knew where we were to sit, there was no arguing. Not too much competition.We had one theatre in Haney, or Maple Ridge as it is called now. And we could only go to that with either an elder brother or with one of the parents. But we had sports, played all sorts of games as we called them then. You know, our vocabulary changes with the times. We didn’t have boyfriends like they have now; we had to keep our distance. That was something that you had to be careful about. Not ‘til we were older and out of high school. People go around now; it seems to me the ones in grade schools have their boyfriends and girlfriends and so on, but it was a whole different culture.
George Post: Would there be high school dances and balls and graduations and things like that?
Yes, high school dances and my brother would always have to take me; I wasn’t allowed to go out. And he said, “She should get somebody else’s brother!” I remember him saying that, and Mother said “No, you’re taking her.” They were very protective in a way, I guess. Then there would be the graduation ball. It wasn’t the big affair that they have now, the youngsters when they are graduating now with mortarboards and so on. I imagine in smaller areas around Ottawa and across the river things might be less sophisticated than they are here now. Be more like my growing-up culture.
George Post: Would you describe it as a prosperous community in those days, Maple Ridge?
I really couldn’t judge it any other way, except that the farmers had good fields, and they had good cows, and they went into town. And of course there was the Japanese, they were such hard workers. They had all the strawberries, wonderful. All market gardening, for the Japanese, and they worked so hard, when I look back at it. And they lived in more primitive housing. When war was declared with Japan, my father was Reeve at the time. He had to go out, and they seized everything of the Japanese. My mother said he could never recover from it, because they were his friends, and he had to take their car. He was ordered to do all this stuff. It was a terrible thing, George, when I look back at it.
George Post: The Relocation Program.
Yes, they sent them up to Kamloops, and they had to leave everything behind. And Rose ___was a youngster then. It is very interesting to hear her talk about that time. They just picked them up, and left them in Hope or Kamloops or wherever it was. Well, they did the same thing in the States and I guess they thought it was good reason to do so.
George Post: Would you have been aware of the 1930’s depression in Mission?
Yes, in Maple Ridge, we knew there was a depression. My father was selling Ford cars, I remember that, and for about a year or two there were no sales. Then he went into General Motors. And yes, we were told, I remember our mother saying that things were not very plentiful but somehow we always had lots of food, and went to the movies once a week, and so on. But we didn’t have the elaborate lives that kids have now, with all the other things. It was a very simple life. But I was aware, certainly, sometimes I have a hard time dividing up whether I knew it at the time or knew it later, but certainly I knew there was a depression. But we all were well clothed. My mother sewed and made all our clothes. She sewed beautifully. Sometimes think how lazy I am, I don’t do any of these things.
George Post: She made clothes for all the children?
Yes, she didn’t make coats but she made all our dresses and she didn’t make the boys’ (clothes), she made our dresses.
George Post: Helen, you mentioned the experience of the Japanese people in Vancouver when the war broke out. What other memories do you have of the Japanese community? Would they have youngsters in the school system who would be classmates of yours?
Yes, some of our best friends were Japanese, and very studious. They all went to school, and they picked the berries and that after. I would say at that time, I might be wrong, but certainly a quarter if not more of our schools had Japanese students in them, and they were good friends.
George Post: Now, was there only one high school in Maple Ridge?
Yes, McLean High as they called it, after the Minister of Education. It is now Maple Ridge High. But it is the one for the whole of Maple Ridge. And they had a bus service. We just had about two blocks to walk so we did not use the bus, but there was a good bus service. And you see, the winters there, the weather, the living is easy out there. We didn’t have a problem of going to school in the snow and the cold and so on. It was just like this. This would be winter, in Vancouver.
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, 1965
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.
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!
My next project was to assist World Health Organization (WHO) personnel in developing an evaluation of schools of nursing in the 13 countries of the former British Caribbean territories, later named the Commonwealth Caribbean. My title for this Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) project was “PAHO/WHO Short Term Consultant”.
I was responsible for the development of the entire project under the general direction of the zone nurse, Janet Thomson. The PAHO/WHO project nurse was Nita Barrow. This project -PAHO/WHO Survey of Schools of Nursing in the Caribbean Area –followed the same methodology I had developed for the PPESN in Canada. The first phase, as in Canada, included visits to all countries and territories to interpret the project to ministers of governments, members of board controlling nursing schools, matrons, teaching staff other nursing personnel and, where requested to do so, the local nurses’ associations, general nursing councils and medical associations. During these one-to two-day preliminary visits, we interpreted and distributed a questionnaire designed to obtain some basic information about each school of nursing, prior to the survey. In this initial phase, it was also necessary, as it was in Canada to have an Advisory Committee, a Board of Review, and Regional Visitors. There were three persons intimately involved in the project: The Project Nurse, Nita Barrow, who was recruited from her post as Principal Nursing Officer in Jamaica. Nita Barrow and WHO had tried to convince me to become the project nurse but I was unable to commit myself to working in the Caribbean for two years. Despite pressure to change my mind, I held firm and recommended Nita as having all the necessary qualifications to become Project Nurse. At that time, WHO had a policy that no national could be employed to carry out a project in his/his own country. In the end, we prevailed and, despite the roadblocks, a national, Nita Barrow, was given permission to be a senior member of the WHO team.
The Zone Nurse, Janet Thomson, was a highly competent American WHO nurse stationed in Caracas. The Short-term Consultant was a position I eventually held for almost 10 years. My original assignment was a two-year appointment but I carried on for an additional seven years. For seven weeks in the summer of 1964 and, again, for six weeks in the summer of 1965, I worked on the project. (See p. 16-19 of the report “Survey of Schools of Nursing in the Caribbean Area” and “Spotlight on Nursing
Education: The Report of the PPESN in Canada” p.13-17.)
As noted earlier, preliminary visits were made to 13 countries and 23 schools of nursing. Later, one week surveys of the 23 schools were carried out to collect data for the final evaluation. Air travel to the 13 Caribbean countries, each on its own island~ was a fascinating adventure. We would “take off” across a wonderful, blue, sparkling sea only to land in a very short period of time on another tropical island. This was my very first trip to the tropics but not by any means, my last.
Many memorable events occurred on various stops. One visit, especially, I shall always remember. It is difficult to forget looking for yourself -for almost an hour! Apparently, Nita Barrow had asked a very efficient Chief Nurse in the Public Health Service to look after me, despite the fact that I didn’t feel I needed “looking after.” After she greeted me warmly at the airport, the Chief Nurse asked if I would help her locate a physician from Canada who had been on my plane. Pleased to assist, I recovered my bags and began checking the passports of deplaning passengers. I approached an elegant man with a Canada passport and asked if he was a doctor on a PAHO/WHO assignment. His response, a very rude “No!” I persevered.
Eventually — there were 100 passengers on the plane — I spotted a very business-like person with the appropriate passport and asked, very politely, if he were coming to St. Lucia for an assignment with WHO. He looked suspiciously at me and proceeded to the baggage claim area. In those days, you could move freely through the terminal, so I followed him only to be told that he was NOT with any organization. I reported back to the Chief Nurse who was still chatting with Nita. I suggested that she ask the airport officials to page the doctor over the public address system, lest our Canadian doctor had slipped through our net. Booming over the loudspeaker came the message, “Would Dr. Mussallem from Canada please identify himself to the station manager.” Well! After almost an hour of looking, we had located the missing Canadian doctor!
In the meantime, Nita had been reclaiming her luggage. Unfortunately, her suitcase was a disaster. It was as full of holes as a grate, and was seemingly held together by a few tattered bits of fabric. A young man, carrying a cardboard box, approached us. He told us that he had left Antigua with 12 reptiles and now there were only two in his box. Had we seen any? An airport official wanted to open Nita’s bag there and then but Nita refused. After all, one doesn’t wish to have one’s personal items exposed to public gaze.
Before we began our survey in each country, we attended an elegant reception complete with government officials, clergy, PAHO/WHO personnel, staff, from hospitals, schools of nursing, press, etc. St. Lucia was no exception. This was a very formal occasion with many speeches. After the formalities, the Zone Nurse and Project Nurse spoke outlining the project and, finally, I contributed a few words about my role. I always tried to have “a little special something” in each presentation. On our flight into St. Lucia, I had spotted a rainbow which made a complete circle. Wow! It was so spectacular that I thought it merited waking Nita to see it. (Nita always sat by the window and went into a deep sleep before the plane took off. When we landed, she awoke fresh and rested.) At my prodding, she opened her beautiful, dark eyes and took a good look at the rainbow and then promptly fell into a deep sleep again. I jotted down a few notes thinking that I could use this extraordinary sight in my speech. Eloquently, I likened the rainbow circle to the value of nursing in the Caribbean –encompassing the whole spectrum of society and its commitment to prevention of disease, the maintenance of health, and the education of nurses to meet health goals.
At our welcoming reception, dignitaries spoke, the Zone Nurse spoke, and then Nita spoke. Imagine my surprise when she gave a moving speech based on the circular rainbow she had seen from the plane. There went my speech, although I did manage to scrounge a few snippets out of what I had prepared. Nita Barrow, I should mention, was, and is, one of the most gifted speakers I have ever heard. Although many Caribbeans seem to have a talent for public speaking, Nita is head and shoulders above the rest.
At the time of our surveys, Nita’s brother was Premier of Barbados and one of the most outstanding dignitaries in the entire Caribbean. Nita, however, never took advantage of her illustrious brother’s position.” Well, perhaps on one occasion, and that was when a companion stepped on some sea urchins. Nita asked a police constable to get help and, when he did not obey, she “let him have it”. For such a dignified, calm person, she could “fight like mad” whenthe occasion demanded it.
I recall the extraordinary preparations made for us prior to and during our survey visits. Every effort was made to have all documents and schedules ready and waiting for us. What a wide range of quality and ingenuity we encountered! I remember, with some amusement, the diagrams of the female genitourinary tract presented to us at one school of nursing. Before us were drawings, in color, of all anatomical parts -but with a new twist! Around the uterus, kidneys, bladder, etc. was pasted exquisite lace. Never before or since have I seen those organs looking so festive!
The curriculum in most of the Caribbean schools of nursing was an exact copy of the syllabus in the U.K. These were former British colonies and senior staff were expatriates or recruits from the U.K. Additionally, nurses graduating from Caribbean schools wished to have reciprocity with the U.K. and this could be accomplished only if the U.K. syllabus was followed. When I asked in school after school for a copy of their curriculum, I became very discouraged when all that was produced was a copy of “The Syllabus”. It was music to my ears when I heard, at the 1972 Seminar for Tutors, the Director of one of these schools ask, “When are we going to produce nurses who are qualified to meet the needs of the Caribbean people?”
The one-week survey visit to each school of nursing was an intensive process, usually planned as follows:
Monday was devoted to studying the information provided in the Preliminary Information Schedule and the 21 additional items of written materials describing the program, requested at the time of the survey. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent in visiting the school, the hospital and one affiliating agency, and in interviewing individuals and groups directly connected with the educational program. Each evening and all day Friday were spent writing the report, and Saturday morning the report was read back to the faculty and other interested members of the hospital staff. A total of approximately 65 hours was spent by each visitor on the survey and the writing of the report.
Rule No. 1 was that absolutely no evenings were to be spent in other than writing of the report, discussions, etc. related to the relevant survey. One week, when we were in Antigua, the country where the Project Director was headquartered, I noticed some unusual activity. Maids and porters were kept busy delivering small and large packages which Nita put on top of the fridge. By Thursday, I was becoming really suspicious. I said to Nita, “I hope we are not having guests before we finish on Saturday.” No reply. You didn’t push Nita, no matter what your authority. All day Friday, while we were writing the report at Nita’s place in Sugar Hill Flats, activity increased and Nita divided her time between receiving parcels and writing her share of the report. At 7 p.m., I was still busy writing when guests started to arrive. Nita had recruited the assistance of maids and waiters of friends and, together, they whipped up the best party ever–about 60 people came. After putting the report together in my flat next to Nita’s, I joined in the fun. The main focus was a BBQ with a pig’s head rotated on a spit and cooked to a turn. As Nita’s flat became the main venue for the party, one maid, Valentino, was assigned to wash dishes in my flat. Dear Valentino was so pregnant but, as everything was set up for her there, she managed just fine.
Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed the party immensely. Nita had prepared some absolutely luscious Caribbean dishes and her friends and brought others. Rum and other spiritus frumenti were in ample supply but there was no sign of any intoxication. I had consumed very little myself, as I knew I had more work to do that night on the survey report. Food was laid out buffet style but, from somewhere, Nita had recruited two waiters so everyone was well looked after. We were a friendly, happy group which included most of the Island officials and doctors and their wives from all over the island.
When the party ended at about 11 p.m., there were no words of protest from me. Nita knew I had enjoyed the festivities. The waiters cleaned the flat and Valentino was washing dishes in my quarters. When I returned to my flat -the kitchen was the first room you entered –Valentino said something like, “Dotah mam des a moh n yo ba”. Perplexed, I replied, “I can’t understand you Valentino. Please speak more slowly”. Again, I failed to understand her. Not wanting to be insistent but now very curious. I again asked, “Valentino, please speak more slowly –one word at a time”. Still no luck. By this time, I was so tired that all I wanted to do was to get to bed. The report could be finished in the morning. Slowly, she enunciated, “Dotah ma’m des a man in yo bed”. Comprehension slowly dawned but I still thought I must have misunderstood something. By now, I was screeching at poor Valentino who became so frightened that she turned the small garbage pail upside down, sat on it, and began to cry uncontrollably. I proceeded, hesitant1y to my darkened bedroom and, sure enough, there was a man asleep on my bed. I stepped back, yelling at him to get out of my bed and house. Not a move. I shouted louder; still no movement. Creeping closer to the bed, it became obvious that he was completely unconscious from indulging too free1y at OUR party. I dashed over and got Nita but, even with her assistance, it was impossible to rouse our intruder. I returned to Nita’s flat where we argued for a while as she wanted me to sleep in her bed but I won and slept on the couch. As we readied for bed I rehearsed how I was going to severely reprimand that impossible man who had stolen my bed.
I woke early and walked outside where I could peer in through my bedroom window. The lifeless figure was still there. I returned at intervals but when he hadn’t awakened by 7 a.m., I rapped on the window waking him with a start. I dashed inside and confronted the dazed man, “telling him off” in no uncertain terms. He tried to get in a word of explanation and, finally, I listened. After showing me his identification, he explained that he was from NASA and had been working steadily for 48 hours on the launch of GEMINI. Full of compassion, I invited him to Nita’s flat for breakfast. Nita looked puzzled as I led him in.
I’m sure she was wondering what had happened to the fierce speech I had prepared. After working so many hours, he explained, when his relief finally arrived, he dragged himself to his room at the Sugar Mill Motel–just down the hill from our flats. Too tired to sleep, he heard the noise and music from our party and walked up the hill to see what was going on. Next thing he knew, someone handed him a drink and he was swept into the party. When lack of sleep and fatigue finally caught up with him, instead of going back to his room, he thought he would rest for a bit in my flat before returning to the party. My bed looked just right for a quick nap and that was the last thing he remembered until I banged on the window. Why Valentino let him into my bedroom is something I still don’t know but I presume she thought he was one of our party.
Unexpectedly, Nita and I found out something about the tracking of satellites and, to this day, when a space ship is launched, I remember –and chuckle.
The Board of Review, composed of eight well-qualified senior nurses from eight of the 23 countries had the onerous responsibility of evaluating, in the light of factual information presented to them, the 23 nursing schools. I recall so well their August 1964 meeting held in the open garage of the Barrymore Hotel. Voting on every aspect of every report was awesome –a soul-searching process. Two of the group stood out head and shoulders above the rest and led the evaluation to a credible conclusion. I reflected back on the PPESN Board of Review meetings in Canada and felt sure that the commitment and quality of the two groups was not that far apart. The process was a Canadian one and I was fascinated to note how readily it was accepted by these exceptional nurses in the Caribbean.
The contrast in the settings of our meetings was remarkable. In Canada, we had a suite at the Chateau Laurier. In Antigua, we met in the open garage. Each time there was a tropical downpour –and there were many –we had to recess the meeting, so loud was the noise from the rain. Despite all this, the quality of both groups was, in my opinion, equal.
It was during this first sitting of the Board of Review in Antigua, while I was accompanying Mrs. Chagas (Chief Nurse, PAHO/WHO, in Washington), that I had an unusual experience. As Nita, and her car, were already engaged, I volunteered to accompany Mrs. Chagas, by taxi, to the meeting at the Barrymore. On arrival, I insisted on paying for the taxi. Much to my chagrin, when I opened my wallet, I didn’t have any BIWI dollars. The night before, I had visited the bar at the Sugar Mill Flats expressly to exchange Canadian travellers cheques for local currency. The bar was full but I managed to complete my transaction and returned immediately to my suite. That night there was a most horrendous storm which I had hoped would relieve the debilitating humidity. There was a ceiling fan in my room but it offered little respite so, as was my custom in the tropics, I lay on top of the bed without my nightdress. When I attempted to pay our taxi fare, I realized that I had been relieved of my BIWI currency, but said nothing. With alacrity, Mrs. Chagas paid the tab. I was disturbed, however. Why were there Canadian travellers cheques and Canadian dollars in my wallet, but no BIWI dollars.
In the midst of our deliberations at the Board of Review meeting, I suddenly realized what had probably happened. During that unbelievably noisy storm, someone had entered my room, opened my purse, and removed my BIWI dollars. Foolishly, I had opened my purse in the bar that night and, presumably, all could see the contents. The next day, after the meetings, I told Nita about my “robbery”. My news so disturbed her that she had what seemed to me to be an asthmatic attack. On our return to Antigua, Nita reported what had happened to the hotel and, believe it or not, I was put in the Honeymoon Suite –three rooms and three locks! In addition, Nita had two police officers on duty outside my room- very reassuring except that the policemen’s voices kept me awake all night.
Another evening that remains indelibly etched in my memory is the night a hurricane was headed for Antigua. That day, we had completed the survey of the Antigua School of Nursing. (This was done in 1964 as a model for the surveys to be carried out in the remaining 22 schools when I was back in Canada.) The hurricane watch was a devastating experience. I know the Matron of the school believed she had a good school of nursing-but that was far from reality.
The survey was conducted according to plan and, on Saturday morning, the report was to be presented to the faculty of the school of nursing and other interested members of the hospital staff. When I arrived in the room where the report was to be read, I realized we had an exceptionally large audience. I took my place at the podium with Nita on one side and the Regional Visitor (a religious sister) on the other. The Matron, despite my urging. chose to sit behind me. By this time, the room was full to overflowing. On one side of the room were about 20 nursing sisters, dressed in white with their blue belts and stiffly-starched veils; on the other side were 15 or more doctors also dressed in white suits. What an imposing sight! I could detect great tension in the room so I started out by saying a few pleasant words, attempting to put the group at ease. The report sat squarely in front of me … but I did not start reading until I told a small, whimsical story which was received with polite laughter. Finally, I opened the report and, as I began to read, a strong gust of wind burst through the window and howled across the room to the windows on the other side taking with it almost all of the report except for the few pages I managed to hold down. Almost all of the doctors– some of whom were cricketers (I found out later) and many of the young nurses dashed outside to rescue my sheets. Nurses and doctors brought back page after page -some pages had gone into the sea and the tall doctors had waded in and rescued them. They handed them proudly to me saying, “I has page 82 and 19 ma’m, and the Chief of Surgery has four sheets.” I collated the tattered report, keeping my hand steadily on the pile which was still being battered by gusts of wind. Nothing could have put the group more at ease than this calamity. When Nita and I completed reading the report, we went back to our Sugar Hill Flats to correct the report and put it in order for the typist.
I spent most of that afternoon working on the report as Nita had to do some other work for PAHO/WHO. When I was satisfied that it was in proper shape, I wondered how it could be protected should the rumoured hurricane become a reality. As I recalled seeing pictures of a hurricane’s aftermath when all that was left was a stove and refrigerator, I wrapped the survey report carefully –it was the only copy in Antigua and these were the days before photocopiers ~-and put it in the oven. About an hour later, Nita asked, “What is that peculiar smell7” I told her that I had put our survey in the oven in case a hurricane struck Sugar Mill Flats. For the first and only, time, Nita screamed at me. “What’s the matter with you!! Don’t you know there is a gas pilot light in the stove???” Rescuing our treasured document, we put the slightly-singed report in the refrigerator.
As the afternoon wore on, the winds grew stronger and the radio kept blasting out reports of thehurricane heading for Antigua. Nita’s friends and relatives came to our flats, high atop the mounds by the sea, and, one after the other, begged Nita to leave our flats and stay with them for the night. Nita refused to go but pleaded with me to leave. Stubbornly, I said, “I won’t go if you are staying.” I did, however, move into Nita’s flat.
We telephoned constantly for hurricane updates until all electricity went out and we were left without communication of any kind. I stretched out on the couch and watched as huge trees bent over to touch the ground in the eerie light that preceded the hurricane. Nita sat up all night trying to make contact – with anyone. Impossible. I have never, in all my years of knowing Nita, seen her so fragile. About 10 p.m., a jeep made it halfway up the hill to our dwelling only to find the road washed out. Junie walked the rest of the way and tried, for the last time, to get Nita and I to leave. We stayed. Finally, at about 6 a.m., there was a beautiful, quiet sky. The devastation was awful but we were fortunate that the hurricane had veered away from Antigua and struck Guadeloupe where it hit very hard. Guadeloupe suffered many deaths and massive destruction so we were fortunate after all.
WHO Expert Study Committee to Advise on the Program for the International School for Advanced Nursing Education (Edinburgh) – 1964
For me personally, and Canadian nursing generally, the three international I projects I completed in 1964 added to the beginning of CNA’s involvement in the world of health and gained for us some stature on the international scene. In addition to my responsibilities as CNA Executive Director, I completed the projects under the auspices of the World Health Organization.
The first assignment was as chairman of the WHO Expert Study Committee advising on the program for the International School of Advanced Nursing Education at the University of Edinburgh. The one-week project began 16 February 1964 and I can, to this day, recall how cold I was when I arrived at my room in the Bruntsfield Hotel in Edinburgh. I thought I would never be able to sleep that first night in my cold, damp room which was 10 feet wide by 24 feet long with a ceiling at least 14 feet high. My bed was a cot fitted with knitted nylon sheets top and bottom, and one comforter. At one end of the room was a very small hot water heater. When I got into bed, the cot was so small and the nylon sheet so tightly drawn that I just kept slipping out. In desperation, I pulled the one heavy chair in the room over to the side of the bed to at least keep me on the bed. The next morning, when I complained that my room was too cold and my bed too small, the management assured me that I had one of their best rooms!
The entire first four days in Edinburgh were spent on curriculum development for the yet to be established WHO International School for Advanced Nursing Education. After the first few days, although I was chair of the meeting, I had to intervene to support the North American model of developing aims and objectives based on philosophy. Miss Stevenson, Director of the School, was adamant in her resistance to our “stupid” proposals. She was of the school of thought where a syllabus was followed. The syllabus had no relation to the school’s philosophy (there was none in writing, but one did exist) and, certainly, aims, objectives and anticipated outcomes were never considered. Our meetings became a tense “we” and “they” struggle which I handled as tactfully as possible. Eventually, most of the University’s faculty “saw the light” and became enthusiastic and supportive. We all became such good friends, in fact, that I was invited out one evening to hear Andy Stewart, a favourite of mine. Due to pressures involved in writing the report each night, I regretfully declined but we did agree that Saturday was possible. We had a wonderful evening. One faculty member was assigned to sit next to me in our box seats “to interpret”. Despite the thick Scottish accent, no interpretation was necessary when he sang, “There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier….”
During my week in Edinburgh, I wrote in my room each night using the day’s discussions to gradually develop the curriculum in readiness for a final presentation. After the first day, Miss Stevenson would absent herself “to attend to pressing duties”. Writing in my room was a chilling challenge. It was so cold, I wrapped myself in my Newfoundland seal coat and wore lined gloves. Writing this way was very awkward so down I went to complain, again, to the hotel manager. I was told there would be more heat –there was none. After another hour of frigid room and cold, slippery bed, I complained again. This time, a maid brought me two hot stone pigs. A little better, but still tricky trying to sleep cuddled around the stone pigs. Despite the large chair I had placed next to the bed to restrain me, I kept slipping off my cot. After another hard day of meetings, I decided that enough was enough. I would not spend another night in my chilly room. Down I went, yet again, to see the manager. “If you don’t do something, I shall take a chill,” I warned. Those must have been magic words because, when I arrived back in my room, a large, electric heater had appeared. What bliss!
The final curriculum outline for the International School was completed Friday evening in readiness for presentation the next day to the Director of the School and others from the clinical setting —from both inside the hospital and from the community (public health nursing). I remember that Saturday morning, seated at the head table in the Conference Room with Miss Stevenson, the Director on one side, and Lyle Creelman, WHO, on the other. I outlined the curriculum –starting with philosophy, aims and objectives as developed by the faculty of the school (minus Miss Stevenson) and the WHO consultants. Just before I commenced our presentation, Miss Stevenson said to me, “I disagree with everything you have done. ‘Noon’ will approve.” Facing a roomful of WHO personnel, staff of the university school, ward sisters in full uniform and public health nurses in their regalia, I started off with a full explanation of the project and how we had developed it. After 15 minutes or so, I began to outline the curriculum and our rationale for it. Then silence. Although Miss Stevenson chose not to speak, all the others were more supportive than I could have ever imagined. The chief public health nurse even said that it was the first time she actually knew what the program was all about. Two of the sisters, in their fetching bonnets agreed. Miss Stevenson, with palpable reluctance, agreed to “try it out”. She did and the program became a great success. Reports still refer to our work on the curriculum “way back in ’64”. It was, in fact, more than the development of a curriculum —it was the establishment of the first English-language WHO nursing education program for post R.N. nurses world-wide: the very first program having been the French-language school for Advanced Nursing Education in Lyon, France.
When our presentation was complete, we were invited to explain our proposal for the School of Advanced Nursing (SAN) to the medical faculty. We proceeded to the faculty’s new and modern building and, although it was winter outside, it was a bright, warm day inside. All of the senior, rather imposing members of the medical faculty were seated at the head table, with Lyle Creelman at one end. I was seated at a side table. After the introductions, I was asked to make the presentation. The room was very warm and, when I was finished speaking, sweat poured down my face. I had worn an attractive, pink wool dress which was appropriate for the occasion but not for the heat in that sun-baked room. I eyed the raised Venetian blinds which were letting in the hot sun and decided to sidle, unobtrusively, to the window and lower the blinds. With everyone’s attention elsewhere, I pulled the cord to release the blinds. Unfortunately, it was the wrong cord and only half the blind released with the most awful clatter. I held on to the cord for dear life. The Dean of Medicine came to my rescue saying, “Steady, lass. Steady. What are you trying to do?” Although I thought my intentions were obvious, I hesitantly explained. Lyle looked away in agony but, with the blinds down, the room was somewhat cooler. All of the members of the medical faculty, except one, were not too impressed with our presentation and listened to us with polite disdain. One member of the faculty, however, spoke with great enthusiasm about our new approach to nursing education. After our presentation, we were invited to the office of the President, known in Scotland as Principal. We were offered sherry but I declined. At the urging of the President, who wanted to toast the completion of the project, I relented and hoped that, on an empty stomach, I would not feel the results too soon. The Principal was a fascinating man who, at that time, was one of the world’s top scientists in the field of space exploration. He asked if we had any questions and, of course, I had one. “Was it necessary,” I asked, “for the head of a university to have been an academic?” I was interested as, in Canada, the physician administrators of our hospitals were being replaced by “lay administrators” who were graduates of hospital or business administration programs. The President paused for about 10 seconds … it seemed forever … and replied in a Scottish brogue, “Yes, it is important to have been a professor in a discipline so that you can speak the language.” I have never forgotten his reply and have used it to advantage over the years.
Lebanon -May 1964
After intensive work at CNA following the project in Edinburgh, I was invited, by WHO, to conduct a survey of schools of nursing in Lebanon. I was also asked to give one major speech and to be a member of a panel discussion at the First Middle East Nurses Assembly to be held in Beirut, Lebanon. The CNA President approved these field trips saying that probably no one would notice that I was gone. I was excited to be visiting the land of my ancestors. When the initial correspondence came early in 1963, I shared it with my father. He was so pleased but, sadly, he died in June 1963 and never heard the great stories I could have told him about my visit. Although Dad rejected the land of his birth –he wanted to be a real Canadian and do his best for Canada –he was interested in Lebanon and so pleased that his daughter would see “the old land”.
Although there was a long lead time prior to my departure for Lebanon, communications were very poor. It was difficult to receive WHO authorization for my flight and to be informed about hotel reservations in Beirut. I did put together notes for my speech and preliminary plans for the survey of schools of nursing but the information I received was so slim that I felt ill-prepared. Despite telegrams, I did not even know the name of my hotel in Lebanon —but I decided to go anyway.
The flight was long -Ottawa/Montreal/London, England -with a long wait for a connection to Beirut, via Frankfurt. The planes were slow so I slept most of the time after leaving London. I woke at one point and saw snow-covered mountains. For a moment, I thought I was crossing the Rockies on my way home to Vancouver. Then, I started to worry about how to find accommodation for the first night as we were arriving after dark. When the aircraft stairs were lowered, I was first off the plane. As I walked across the tarmac, I felt very lonely. Unexpectedly, I heard a faint, “Dr. Moo sell um” –the Arabic pronunciation of my name. Relieved, I approached the lady and gentleman and said, ”I’m Dr. Mussallem, from Canada.” A swarm of at least 20 men with flash cameras came out of the darkness and the night turned into a great, white flash of light. An elegant man approached and bowed from the waist saying, “Welcome to Lebanon, land of your father.” He was the Lebanon Minister of Tourism. Next came the Minister of External affairs, then Mme. Sultan, Director of the Red Cross School, and then other government officials. I was whisked into the VIP Lounge where arak and other liqueurs and wines were offered. My passport and luggage tags were handed over to airport officials while I sat with the welcoming delegation and talked, and talked. The Lounge was very warm and I had, as usual, travelled in a woollen suit. Eventually, a baggage handler appeared to announce that my luggage was not on the plane. “Find it!” shouted the ministers, clapping their hands in the typical Middle East clap command. We waited and waited but no luggage arrived. Finally, I was escorted to my hotel, The Orient Prince. A kindly nurse from the American University generously offered to lend me a night dress and slippers. Although she was about twice my size, I didn’t care. I slept soundly. In the morning, I was awakened by the sound of a jet overhead and then heard prayers from the Mosque, followed by the voices of vendors far below my window loudly extolling the virtues of their attractive1y-arranged carts.
At 6 a.m., a waiter, in fez, arrived with my breakfast. He knocked and, at my invitation, opened the door and stood there with my tray, screamed, put my breakfast on the floor — and ran. His startled eyes were as large as billiard halls. When I sat up, I did not realize that my night dress, miles too big, had slipped completely off.
My first day in Beirut was a busy one. Dressed in my now perspiration soaked suit (my luggage arrived two days later), I met with senior officials in the health department. Immediately after each introduction, the official would ask, “Are you Christian or Moslem?” In Lebanon, for every senior position in the entire government, there was always an equally ranking person of the other religion. I was also introduced to my national counterparts. The one that accompanied me everywhere was Christian but, when we went on distant trips to Tripoli and Tyre, my Moslem counterpart came along as well. Her English was limited as was my Arabic. My driver was Moslem. I recall so clearly the exciting ride back from Tripoli along the beautiful coast of Lebanon. There were no guardrails along the road despite the sheer drop into the Mediterranean on one side. I was especially frightened when the driver and my Christian guide got into a heated argument and several times, in his anger, the driver almost drove over the cliff.
There were many things my guides did in the name of my father. We visited the Cedars of Lebanon. “We take you there in the name of your father,” my guides said. On the drive to the coast, we visited the tomb of Kalil Gibran. At that stop, a Lebanese lady was asked to prepare chicken for us. She had just killed the chickens by wringing their necks and spices were rubbed into the meat with her bare hands. When we were ready to eat, I noted that the chicken was not well cooked and I feared that all the bacteria had not been killed. My counterparts and the driver, however, ate their portions – and mine, as I was “not hungry”.
I recall returning to my hotel that afternoon (work began at 8 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m.), to find the lobby filled with men in Arab headdress. The hotel manager said all of these men were relatives –all Mussallems.
My arrival had been reported, in English, French and Arabic, in the 30 daily newspapers. My “relatives” had read of my arrival and had come down from the mountains to welcome me. The oldest man spoke no English but, through an interpreter who accompanied him, told me how he was related to my father. I had no way of verifying this information but I thanked him, graciously, for coming. Likewise, when I was in Zahle, my counterpart called “a cousin” who took me to her home. In less than half an hour, every room in the house was filled with Mussallems or Moussallems (as it is spelled in French). They all claimed to be relatives. Mussallem, in Lebanon, is as common a name as Smith or Jones is in Canada.
The main reason for my visit to Lebanon was to conduct a survey of schools of nursing and hospitals as I had done in Canada for the PPESN. I started with the three main schools and hospitals in Beirut —the Red Cross School of Nursing, The School of Nursing at AUB, and the Moslem School of Nursing –an Arabic School and Hospital. The entire survey process and techniques used were modified from those of the PPESN (see Report, p.94-137).
We then proceeded to Tyre, Sidon and Tripoli. In all, 11 schools of nursing were surveyed. Almost half of the schools were privately run by doctors and standards were very low. Survey results revealed that only two of the schools –AUB and Red Cross –met the desirable standards.
During our travels outside Beirut, tensions were mounting and there was a real threat of war. I remember, so vividly, sitting in the back of our car, alone, traveling to Beirut. My counterpart sat in the front with the driver. Six soldiers stopped the car and –three on each side –pointed their bayonets at us. Tremulously, I volunteered, “I have my Canadian passport.” “Shaddap!” said my companion. I understood Arabic well enough to surmise that my companions were attempting to explain our trip and tell the soldiers that we were all government officials. Apparently satisfied, the soldiers shoved a bayonet into the car as though to push us on –and off we sped.
There were, however, many pleasures in Beirut: looking out over the Mediterranean; sampling the best of Lebanese food; taking pleasure trips on Sunday to remote villages or casinos; and eating strawberries at the St. George’s Hotel patio. (As WHO personnel, I was forbidden to eat the strawberries but I did –only three times. They were worth dying for.) Many quaint items were sold on the streets of Beirut but I was particularly intrigued by the never-ending boxes of Chiclets offered for sale by grown boys. One night, at dusk, a very large boy approached me brandishing his Chiclets. I said “La” (no) but he kept following me, shoving the gum in my face. In desperation, I yelled “Rhou min hown”, the equivalent of “Get to h— away.” He really ran. I suppose he had never expected such language from a lady in European dress.
Leaving Beirut was another sad, if memorable, experience. We left the hotel at 3 a.m. to allow time for all the required clearances. On the way to the airport, we were again stopped by armed soldiers. They made us get out of our car, opened our suitcases and picked through everything — especially the negligees. We could do nothing but keep quiet and watch the charade. Later, as we approached the airport, the sun rose and bathed the beautiful hills of Lebanon with glorious light. Such a contrast from my noisy welcome: men dancing the Dabke in the streets; record players and radios blaring out music; and hordes of people lining the streets –some in Arabic costume, some in European.
After the Lebanon survey, I participated in the First Middle East Nurses Assembly where I presented a major address on Research in Nursing, chaired a panel, and gave many press interviews. These were unique events as they were conducted in three languages, English, French and Arabic, with volunteer interpreters. The equipment was rather primitive but, somehow we managed.
ICN in Frankfurt 1965
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.
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.
George Post:Helen, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, to share some of your memories about your childhood and how you grew up and things like that. Why don’t we start by my asking you to tell me where you were born and a bit about your family?Very good. Well, I was born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and we lived there until I was either two or three years old. I can remember so well being carried on to the boat; there were just planks in those days, and my father carried me on. So I was probably about two years old, and we came down to Vancouver.We lived in Vancouver for only about one year. My father was trying to learn mechanics and how to repair cars and so on, and things apparently didn’t go very well; I didn’t realize that as a child. We didn’t know any of the problems of our parents; they always seemed very happy. We had lots of friends, lots of food, lots of companionship. But later on I found out that some of the things were not as good.So we lived in Vancouver very shortly and then we moved out to Maple Ridge, or my father did. He wanted to find some place where he could bring up the family, and where they would have a lot of freedom and a pleasant environment. So he chose Maple Ridge. At that time it was a very small community and we moved there, and indeed it was a wonderful place to grow up in. My father eventually became mayor for 23 years in Maple Ridge. So those are my best memories of my childhood, being around Maple Ridge.George Post: Did you have siblings? Tell me about the family.Oh yes, there were six of us in the family. Well, I should say that my father’s mother lived with us both in Prince Rupert and in Maple Ridge, in Vancouver and Maple Ridge, and she was a very elderly lady. She was probably about the same age as I am now, but I thought she was very elderly. She was the only one I knew of my grandparents.
In the six of us in the family, my eldest brother is George Mussallem, and he is sort of the patriarch of the family. He is 93 now, will be 93 in January, and he was a member of the Legislative Assembly. He was in politics too. My next brother down was a Judge, Judge Nicholas Mussallem. Many of the young lawyers know him. He subsequently died, as my sister, who was next to him in line. She was a nurse, and I was a nurse, and my young brother Peter is very much alive and well, and he is a professional engineer and the head of the engineers’ Iron Ring Society. And my youngest sister is Lily Harper, and she is, I was going to say an actress, but she really was a professional teacher and she got into acting, and still dabbles in it. And she has two wonderful girls, and one of them, Lynette, is the one that, as my mother used to say, ‘that poor child doesn’t know which one is her mother,’ because she was born when I was living in her upstairs apartment, and so I brought her up from Day 1 and she is very special. She is 44 now, so that’s some time ago.
George Post: Now the older children would have been born in Prince Rupert as you were?
George was born in Winnipeg, Nick was born in Prince Rupert, Mary, and all the rest of us except my youngest sister Lil, she was born in Maple Ridge.
George Post:And what family stories took your father to Prince Rupert?
Well actually he came from Winnipeg because it was not very prosperous. At that time he told us there was this great sentiment, ‘Go West Young Man, Go West.’ And so he decided to go west, and he went to Prince Rupert which wasn’t the best place to go, because Prince Rupert went downhill at that time, roughly.
George Post:Tell me a little bit more about your father. What kind of trade or profession, training did he have?
My father was born in Lebanon in Qaraoun. We were there, my young niece and I. He was born there and he escaped from Lebanon at the time that the Turks were persecuting the Christians; and he was a Christian. He got on this ship that they didn’t know where it was going, the three of them. It tells about it in his book (Solomon Mussallem: A biography by H.B.King, 1955). And they found out the boat was headed for Montreal, and that’s how we got here. So he came as, I say refugee now, I don’t know what they were called in those days. He was very adventuresome, very bright.
George Post:That would be around the time of the First World War?
Oh, no, much before. Well, he was born in 1881. It would be around the turn of the century.
George Post:And your mother? Where did they meet?
Well, my mother was born in Kfar Mishki, which isn’t far from Qaraoun in Lebanon. And they met at the home of her uncle. She was living with her uncle. Her father had died; her mother had come to Canada with Annie, as she was called, Annie Besytt. She was living there when Dad met her and he decided that he wanted to be married, when she was about 17 or 18. And they eloped, and my father had the police after them and so on, quite a great beginning I gather. And I noticed in their Marriage Certificate they were married in the States, just across the border, Burlington or one of the neighbouring cities in the States.
George Post:You mentioned that you grew up with only one of your grandparents, a grandmother. That was your father’s mother?
Yes, my father’s mother, his father died when he was quite young. My mother’s parents I didn’t know; they stayed in Lebanon, so we didn’t know them.
George Post:And your father’s mother would speak English as well as…
She would speak Arabic mostly, and she wanted us to speak Arabic, and my father said “They are going to be brought up as Canadians, don’t you dare teach them Arabic.” But she would teach us a few words. I can still count in Arabic and I can converse a bit. When they weren’t looking. When he said we were going to be brought up as Canadians, we weren’t having accents. Because he had an accent and he didn’t want us to be handicapped in that way. So he would not allow us to stay with her very long, and so on. There weren’t babysitters so much in that generation because Mother didn’t go out to work, that sort of thing.
George Post:And what sort of apprenticeship or training did your father have?
Well, he wanted, he decided he would go into the car business… But I should back up. In Prince Rupert they had a store, which was not very successful, and they left there for Winnipeg. He had a business that wasn’t very successful then in Prince Rupert, and you know, by this time he had five children. Life must have been pretty rough; I never thought of it that way.
So he actually decided when he went farther south that Vancouver looked good, but he wanted to look out for someplace where he could really build something worthwhile. But we were in Vancouver briefly and he decided that mechanics, automobile mechanics, there was a great future there. So he actually went out and worked for a garage first, an apprenticeship we’d call it now, and I gather did quite well. And so all his life he was in the automobile business. Besides politics.
George Post:And your brothers are also mechanically inclined, and interested in working with their hands?
No, nobody followed except George, my oldest brother. My brother that became a judge, he was a lawyer first; he couldn’t stand the smell of grease. Dad wanted us all to work in the garage because he then was expanding across the Fraser Valley, and she didn’t like it there. Well, I went in training and I never got back, in Vancouver. So none of us, really.
My younger brother is interested because he is a professional engineer, But he’s a professional mechanical engineer; there are all different classifications. And he works out at UBC now, with students at UBC.
George Post:You mentioned that your father was concerned that you grow up with a Canadian accent. They must have valued education very highly to have seen all their children so well educated.
They did, absolutely everything was put aside so that we could have the best education possible. And when we went to grade school and secondary school in Maple Ridge, some of the children had to work and so on. But my mother and father were determined that we had time to study when we were at home.
Education was the primary objective for us and for them. They’d want all of us to be well educated, and that is not, I’ve been doing some reading, not too uncommon in that generation, for the children of that generation. Their parents wanted them to grow up as Canadians. There was a judge that was just appointed in Ontario, and he tells the same story of how his parents gave up so much, so he could be a lawyer and then a judge.
George Post:What is your first memory as a little girl? Do you remember Prince Rupert?
Yes, I remember it! I was so young. But I can remember between our house and the main sidewalk… Because Prince Rupert was so wet, it just absolutely rained 13 months out of the year, as they said. So the roads were not paved at that time of course. They were just slats of wood that were put across; I don’t know what they did, they put them across. And we would have a sidewalk leading up to it.
One of my first memories was going on my tricycle, I guess I must have been about 3, onto the road, and they’d just resurfaced it. It was that high. So I fell on my bum, I fell about a thousand feet, I guess it was just about 10 feet, and I remember that so well. I guess it was traumatic. And I can remember having fun with my brothers, playing and making tents and tunnels, and all the kinds of things that kids do. We didn’t have the sophisticated kind of toys and other things that children have now, but we had fun.
We really enjoyed each other. When I look back I think we were very fortunate because we didn’t have a lot of conflict from outside. It was your home life, your school, there was the church, and so on.
George Post:Well, tell me a bit about that community life. Either there, or in other towns where you moved. Was your family part of a larger network? Did you have uncles or aunts or cousins to associate with?
No, my father moved west, and left. The rest of the family were still in Toronto, Carlton Place. Carlton Place was just a word to me ‘til I moved here (Ottawa). No, we didn’t have any. He went west, first to Winnipeg, then to Prince Rupert, then to Vancouver, but cut off entirely from relatives. He was not a person to associate frequently with relatives.
It’s rather interesting that one of my second cousins came to visit me; she was sitting right here, and she said “You know, everybody knows your father didn’t communicate with the rest of the family.” And I said, “No, he didn’t; he wanted to be out on his own, be a Canadian.” He didn’t like the idea of being in the Lebanese community, or whatever it was. It was called ‘Syrian’ then, I noticed in the book. But when Lebanon became a country of its own, they were called Lebanese.
George Post:So, your networks of friends were people you met at high school, or people you met in church?
Yes, our church was the United Church, and we associated a great deal with the children of the minister. And CGIT, Canadian Girls in Training it was called, and Girl Guides. Those were our two main activities. And in a smaller community, I guess in miles it would be about 25 miles outside of Vancouver, we associated primarily with people in the school and in the church. And the United Church was very active in the small community, as were the others, the Anglican and certainly the Catholic church. My father was very broadminded about religion, because he had grown up in the Syrian Orthodox Church, and he wasn’t having any of this United Church stuff. He went to the Anglican Church, which was closer to the Syrian Orthodox. So our family rotated primarily around people we knew at school and people we knew at church.
Back then, a big expedition was getting into the car and going into Vancouver. It was about, as I say, 25 miles away, which took about an hour and a half, and now it takes about 20 minutes driving with the new highways. Things have changed considerably. And the whole culture changes too, doesn’t it?
George Post:Tell me about some of your memories of your mother; you mentioned that she did not go out to work. Did she have a lot of social, or craft interests, or…? What do you remember of her?
Well, with six children she had a big time. I guess we weren’t all as obedient as we should be. What she did for the church and so on was crocheting, and I can remember her crocheting so many things, things that she did with her hands. She was cooking, they had bake sales and so on. But her primary contribution was crocheting; I still have some of it. And there were other things in the church, and the Women’s Institute was very big at that time.
George Post: Did she have quite a wide circle of friends?
Yes, because especially when my father was in politics, our house was always full of people coming and going. And this is an aside, my mother didn’t like these people drinking in front of the children, so she made Dad fix up a room in the basement that they called ‘the snake room’ and all the men that came for a drink had to go to the basement. She would not have people drinking in front of the children. She was very strict about that. Every time I have a glass of wine now I often think of that. She was very, very strict. My father always had open house, as it were, as a politician. And she was very right to do that, because they were coming and going. They were other politicians, businessmen and so on, but she didn’t feel it was very appropriate.
George Post: How old would you have been when your father went into politics? You’d remember it.
I remember it very well, because when he went into politics I can remember I was in high school and somebody said, “Now your Pa is in politics, don’t be stuck up,” or something like that. So I remember it well, yes. The whole family was involved in a small community. It wouldn’t have been the same in Vancouver; but yes. And it was really something, because he was an immigrant at that time, and the press corps was very Anglo, and very discriminatory, and yet he seemed to make his way through that somehow. But people would always bring it up, occasionally, that he was an immigrant. He just went on.
George Post: Perhaps you don’t want to talk about it, but did you feel this kind of discrimination in your school, or in church groups or things like that?
Well I am glad to talk about it, because we never did feel it. None of my brothers and sisters, except my eldest brother. And I don’t know why that was, because he was sort of at the forefront. I remember at school there was, we were invited to the same things and went to CGIT. We did things all the same, and I don’t remember anything discriminatory, that I saw. There were many Japanese at that time on the West Coast, this was long before Pearl Harbour, and if there was discrimination it was against the Japanese, rather than other small invisible groups.
George Post: Your family obviously had made a major effort to be integrated into the community and local churches and so on.
Yes, they did. They did. They made an effort, you put it correctly.
George Post: Tell me about the rituals of the season. Was Christmas or Easter, or things like that, major events in your family?
Yes. Christmas of course was a big event for all of us, and birthdays were always celebrated. Except my brother and I, who were born early in the new year, and we kind of lost out on things. But yes, there were celebrations, there were cakes, there were friends. We could have friends if we wanted to. Yes, we celebrated all. Easter was a great celebration for the Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, or Greek Orthodox, but they never followed that. They wanted to follow what was Canadian.
George Post: And did your parents take a vacation, or go on a trip during school holidays, or were they staying close to work?
Well, they stayed close to home when we were growing up, and I think it was probably financial as well, but as soon as we… I remember when I was in high school and the others, some of them older and some younger, they went off to Hawaii. And we had a lady that came and stayed and she bossed us around, we didn’t like it. So they did go off, but not frequently as people do now, maybe once every two or three years. But I remember Hawaii because I was so excited, it was the first real holiday I remember them going on.
George Post: What are your memories of your own summer vacation, when school would close at the end of June, and you would have the summer free? What did you do to fill your summers?
Well, we had lots of outdoor activities. I remember we had the mountains behind Maple Ridge, the Golden Ears, that are quite well known now, and we always wanted to go climbing there. Alouette Lake was there, and we did a lot of swimming and fishing and so on, and then we wanted to climb up. But at that time, would you believe it George, they didn’t have slacks for women; we had to get our brothers’ and fathers’ pants and wear them to go up the mountain, because it was quite difficult. And we didn’t have proper shoes, climbing shoes they have for women now. But we would climb up the mountains, we did a lot of fishing, swimming in Alouette Lake, sports at the high school. The high school always had a lot of sports.
George Post: Did your family have a cottage on this lake?
No, it wasn’t that far, and it was easier to drive. It would only be about a 30 minute drive. And people didn’t have cottages. Actually, on the west coast it has only been in recent years that people have had cottages. Here(in Ottawa) I have noticed quite a difference, that everybody has a cottage someplace. But there on the west coast, because the climate is so temperate, you don’t really have to escape. They had shooting lodges, and whiskey lodges as they called them, and all these other kinds of things, but not for people who were brought up the way I was.
George Post: Do you have any recollections of having any summer jobs when you were in school?
My father would never allow us to work. He said, “If you need money, I will give it to you.” And I can remember we would serve, the United Church would have a lunchon and we were serving. And the people all got money but we weren’t allowed to take it. He didn’t want us to work for money. We could do whatever we wanted, but he was very much against that. I think he was probably remembering his own childhood, when he had to work for money.
George Post: Would that be for your brothers as well?
Oh yes, yes. They might have worked but they didn’t work for money. Now my eldest brother George didn’t quite finish his last year of high school; I never knew why, nor did he tell me, because he started work in the garage. And Dad would have liked us all to have worked in the garage, but as I said before, we didn’t fancy doing that. And we weren’t forced into doing it.
George Post: So you weren’t expected to sell gas or work at the cash register or things like that?
No. Well, my eldest sister went to Vancouver and took a course in accounting, and she did the books for a while. My brother that became a judge later on did some managing, but nobody was going to. Dad would have liked us all to have been there, and have built up a great empire in the garage, but it didn’t work out that way.
George Post: You mentioned sports. What are your recollections of school sports? Were you active?
Well, not as active as the youngsters are today. But we had the races, we always had competitive races. I can remember a tug-of-war, it was always the boys against the girls, and that was a great thing. They had more. We had the agricultural hall; all sorts of people brought in their cattle and they had judging for the best cows and chickens and so on. I never took to that too much, although I…
George Post: This would be an annual fair?
Yes, an annual fair, the Agricultural Fair in Maple Ridge. It was quite well known. There was one in Vancouver and one in Maple Ridge, and one up in Chilliwack, and ours was a big one. I remember my father, he was a real businessman, he decided one time at the fair that he was going to get a cow and barbecue it.
We thought he was out of his mind but he went ahead and really quite successfully. We had the barbecue right there, and he invited all his customers and everybody to come. You know, he was really quite clever for his time and generation in doing that. Everybody thought it was wonderful to have somebody there slicing the animal. It was really, really fun.
George Post: Now he was an automobile dealer? He sold new cars in Maple Ridge?
Yes, he was General Motors, and I still drive General Motors, and he not only had the one in Maple Ridge, but he expanded to Mission, and then to Chilliwack, and then was going further west towards Vancouver, but that wasn’t very successful. And he was a dealer. He got all these plaques, I don’t know what happened to them, where he was awarded the Top Salesman of the Year for General Motors, or whatever it was, you know, they had these great shields. And he was very smart in doing that. When I look back now; I didn’t think it was so great then, but now I realize how good it was.
George Post: I think I interrupted you when you were talking about sports. You obviously learned to swim.
I taught myself to swim. We didn’t have swimming instructors in those days. What we did, we went to the Alouette River and we got a log, and we’d paddle on it, and then we’d paddle til it was a little over our depth, and we taught ourselves to swim. And as a result I am still not a good swimmer, because I didn’t learn the proper techniques when I started. But we have our pool downstairs, and we paddle away. Yes, I liked that very much.
George Post: What about ball games? Were you into softball?
Oh yes, we had hardball. In Maple Ridge, my father had a team and they all had Mussallem Motors jackets and we had all the community around. It was a great competition. Yes, we had a lot of ball games.
George Post: In winter, was there an ice rink or curling rink?
Of course, it was very mild. We rarely, that’s why I still can’t skate well to this day. Rarely did it freeze, and once it froze over the Fraser River and my brother and I decided we’d go over. We shouldn’t have, because we didn’t know how it was, but anyway we went to Langley over the ice. But it is a very mild climate in the west, of course. But now with all the skating rinks and so on, and Whistler. There was no Whistler, there was Grouse Mountain, that was as high as anything went in my day, so there wasn’t the opportunity for winter sports at all. I don’t know of anybody that would be skating at that time, no, I don’t think so.
George Post: So, it would be indoor sports. Basketball or other indoor games?
Yes, basketball, what’s the racket one that we had, badminton, and a lot of indoor sports. I must say I didn’t excel at sports. I enjoyed them but I didn’t excel. I don’t know why one should have to, but there were always so many people that were a lot better than me, but I made the odd team.
George Post: What did interest you particularly in school? History, languages, sciences?
Well, I think I would have to say that I was most interested in languages. We had a French teacher and now I realize that she wasn’t very good, but I thought this was kind of fun, learning another language, and so I took that. You could, at that time in Maple Ridge High, you either took science or languages, and so I decided to take languages. My brother took sciences and he said it was much better but I enjoyed the French. Now it’s not very useful to me but I liked it. And then we took Latin. I took Latin. Everybody had to take Latin or something else. Rather interesting, we spent a lot of time learning Latin, because it was going to help us with our English. But I must say that must be debated now.
George Post: Do you remember in school particular teachers who you thought of as models or mentors?
Yes, we had an excellent French teacher. I remember her very well, and I saw her many, many years later. The Latin teacher actually was our principal, and we thought he was good. And the science teacher; we had to take one science course, and they were good. They all came out from Vancouver. None of them were local. Oh no, nobody had grown up in Maple Ridge and attained that level of competence, to be able to be a teacher. And they went to Normal Schools in those days, they called them. I think some of them may be graduates of the University, I don’t know. But when I look back I think that they were excellent teachers, and very interested in us as people. And they’d always drop the odd thing about my father being Reeve, you know, just to try to spur me on. And I never knew why but I guess they wanted me maybe to be a greater achiever, and I got through quite well I think.
George Post: When you look back on those years, would you say there is any particular individual who was a dominant influence on your life or your later career?
I can’t really immediately recall that. I think my family more than the people in the school system. I can’t think of… The teachers as I said were all excellent. A Mr. Miller who taught us languages as well, I met just a couple of years ago when I was in Vancouver. But nobody that really, what shall I say, was a role model.
I guess we were very family oriented. I hadn’t thought of it til now. But I think we thought of our family more than we thought of other people. But we really worked hard. We had to commit ourselves to our school work, and Mother would say, “Go up and do your homework. I’ll do the dishes,” you know. This is the way it was. She put a great value on it.
George Post: Did you have pets in your household?
Yes, we always had a black cat. Yes, I remember that, they were always called Jinx. I guess one followed the other. Yes, that was all we had, was a cat. And in those days, out in the country, the cats were useful in catching mice and so on.
George Post: Did you always live in the same home in Maple Ridge or did you progress through a series of homes as the family…
We progressed through a series. We were down in the hills, to start with, and then my father decided that we had to have a big, impressive home, so he bought this home, the best home, right in the lovely part of Maple Ridge. It was very prestigious and had a great big lawn, we could play tennis on the front lawn. We did that. You see, everything was… we never had the ice sports there.
And then from that one, he decided because we knew he had Parkinson’s. and we knew that he was having more and more difficulty with mobility, and so we built the new home, which is still there to this day. We built it wide enough for the wheelchairs and so on, so he could be looked after at home. And as I say it is still there.
He built it well. He was right there every day. He would never submit himself to a wheelchair, although he should have, and we built it wide enough. He would have people help him or carry him. It was his pride. He thought a wheelchair, that was… it’s not the same mentality as today. A wheelchair is not a disgrace. But then it was almost looked upon, you should fight it … I don’t know what the rationale would be. He wouldn’t ever have a wheelchair.
We did have a chair with little wheels on. Sometimes we moved him from the bedroom to the living room, and he was always so good and so grateful. And we’d help him into the chair. He was always so polite and so grateful for everything we did! Even when we were grown up in our forties and fifties, he was still appreciative, and he’d never expect things. He always had, as he got ill, they had these people, they were mostly housekeepers. Dad fortunately worked hard and he had sufficient money to be able to do the things that were needed to be done for him. So we had these, they were not really trained nurses, but they were there all the time.
George Post: Did this illness come on at an early stage in his life? How old …?
He would have been about mid-seventies then, I guess, early or mid-seventies when it came on.
George Post: Oh well, that’s fairly…
Yes, for Parkinson’s it’smaybe late sixties, but he was older and we saw that… Now I would know because he had this pen rolling symptom. I would know the symptoms immediately. But we knew he couldn’t walk as well. We thought he was lazy. He had all sorts of equipment he bought to keep up his exercise and so on. Parkinson’s is a very insidious disease, it creeps up. Do you know F____, by any chance? Yes, she has that problem. She’s such a great lady too.
George Post: What age was your father when he died?
He died when he was, let me think of the year that he died. He would have been 81. My mother was, I think, 85. She said, “I’m going to live longer than your Dad,” she was determined. Yes, they were both in their 80s when they died.
George Post: And did your mother have reasonably good health all her life?
Yes, she did. She did, and we thought looking after Dad was going to kill her. We were working in town, so we came out and were determined that she should have help. And so she was in reasonably good health. And then she sort of took to her bed, and she wanted to die like her mother did, in her sleep. And she had just a gradual disintegration. I sent to the doctor a number of times, “What is the problem?” He said, “We’ll discuss it some time.” When she died I sat down with him asked what it was, and he said “Just a general deterioration of the brain and the organs and so on. Nothing specific.” I still can’t imagine it. I guess the body just got worn out. Seems to me there should have been some diagnosis. I don’t know what he put on the Death Certificate; I think he put something like ‘old age.’ It was something non-specific, I can remember that. I was kind of emotional at the time so I didn’t say, ‘That’s not good enough.’
George Post: Do you remember when your father’s mother had died? Was that a particularly shocking or sad period for you?
Yes. Well, I was at training as a student at the Vancouver General and she died. I remember they had the minister, Mr. Henderson, wanted to see me and I couldn’t imagine what it was. And it happened that the head of our school was a friend of Mr. Henderson’s, so I was allowed a half hour to have a discussion with my minister. And he came to tell me that my grandmother had died. And it wasn’t… I was sad, but it wasn’t a great shock, because I thought she was awfully old. You know, she’d be about my age (now), and I thought she was very ancient. So I wasn’t shocked. It was interesting, just the other day we were having problems about the gravesite, because Dad was very, very emotional about it all as he would be, and there was enough for the six children and the two parents. But he decided that his mother should be buried there, and then my eldest brother’s wife died, and she should be buried there, and so we we’re going to have to do some rearranging. It isn’t very funny but when you get to my age you just have to face it, you know, this is coming down the road.
George Post: Did your father and mother ever make a trip back to Lebanon?
No, no. They travelled to Cuba the first time. Interesting. He wrote that in his book. He travelled across the country from Maple Ridge, and he made all the stops at Carlton Place and so on, to see the relatives. They flew; they were amongst the first people that flew. They had to go from Vancouver to Regina, Regina to Winnipeg. You couldn’t make a cross-country tour. They were very adventuresome. They went to Seattle, to the States, to Hawaii, I can’t remember other vacations they took because they liked Hawaii very much. It’s very close to Vancouver.
George Post: But never to the Middle East?
No, oh no, no. “Why would they go there?” he’d say. I thought it was fabulous and fascinating though. He turned his back on that, and I guess when he had a rough time… I don’t know , he didn’t have any desire, never expressed it.
Oh, that’s an easy one. At CGIT, Canadian Girls in Training. There were two nurses that lived together in our community, and they did private duty. We didn’t have a hospital at that time. And they would come to CGIT meetings and show us how to mitre the corner of the bed. And then they would give us another lesson on how you washed an ill patient… and I was just absolutely fascinated, and that is what I was going to be.
George Post: How old would have been then?
I would have been about 12, 13, yes. 14.
George Post: And you never had any second thoughts or… That resolve remained with you right through until you went into training?
Yes. No, I didn’t have any thoughts. That’s what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a nurse and I was…
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.
“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”.
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!
“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.
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 U.S.press 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.