Posted: November 1, 2022
This week I was writing a nice post about my friend Gabrielle who has been working on a really neat wood carving. But yesterday I sat down to write about two models instead. Now before you get all wound up thinking that I am going to talk about my relationship with two supermodels, I should clarify that my topic here is not about that. Nor is it about car models I used to build as kid.
Its about two role models. When I was growing up my buddy Jim, the focus of much of my writing on this website had an amazing aunt, Vera Preston. My other buddy James (he was once a Jim as well) had a pretty cool mom, Isobel Hale.
What has sparked my writing this today is that Isobel passed on October 15th. She was born on August 28, 1919, and yes, your math is correct, that’s over 103 years old. That in itself is a rather significant feat. But the real story is what her life was and how she managed it. As one of six children in that family and growing up in several small communities in Saskatchewan and Ontario in that era, it must have been a stimulating time with so much changing in technology and society, especially with five siblings! But later when raising her own children at a time when mothers were to stay home, she was running a nursery school and growing a body of knowledge about early childhood education. That experience she went on to share and became a portion of the foundation for much of what we know today about how young minds think and how to help them grow.
Now Vera Preston was the aunt of my other buddy Jim. She was of the same era as Isobel, being born in 1916 and lived to 2004. Like Isobel, Vera grew up in a modest house in a small Ontario village. Unlike Isobel, she did not have children or marry, but was dedicated to her work. In her case, it was nursing. She went through the nursing program at Brockville General Hospital, and after distinguishing herself in that coursework and as a nurse went on to be the Director of Nursing at Brockville General and an important part of what later became the Nursing Program at St. Lawrence College.
What struck me this week is how similar both of these women were in both their personal traits and in their dedication to various causes. They grew up at a time when the only occupations open to most women were teaching and nursing and while each chose one of those very defined fields for women, they were able to not only excel at the task but move the professions forward.
And again, as they aged, in a very similar way, they both went on to teach, to participate in various boards and causes. This was not because there was an artificial goal of equality in gender representation on those boards but because they could bring important ideas, experience and insight to the table. In her later years Isobel evolved her relationship with children to designing kids clothes and Vera to more medical related charity work.
Both had a very wry sense of humour, and a restrained response to bad decision making or the behaviour of others. As a generator of serious “tomfoolery”, “shenanigans”, and outright “mischief” myself, I always knew each of these women would have a measured response to my behaviour in contrast to most adults I would encounter.
I am sorry I did not know either of them better. I would love to have asked if the experience of Vera watching her farmer father die of pneumonia while working the field, set her on the course to pursue nursing or the experience of Isobel in a large family watching her younger siblings learn and process new information set her on her path to early childhood education.
There is no better a tribute than to say it was a privilege to have known these two woman, at least a little, and that I am a better person for it. At a time when we are rethinking the statues of big men, these two small women stand pretty tall in my memory.