Speech by Sharon Newton,  class of September 1961, at the VGHSON Alumnae Association lunch – May 1, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Nurses, Honoured Guests and the Classes of 1961. It’s our 50th reunion and how the years have flown by.  We are now in our seventies – still young at heart – slightly older in other parts.  We all have memories of our training days at VGH – for most of us the days of frustration, despair, hard work, tears, exam anxiety, and loneliness have been forgotten for the most part.  Laughter, good times, supportive colleagues, and good friends are the most frequent memories we talk about today.

But who were we? We were and are the proud graduates of Vancouver General Hospital School of Nursing Class of Sept’61 Seventy-one (71 ) of us walked down the aisles  of Queen Elizabeth Theatre to receive our graduation Diplomas dressed in unwrinkled, heavily starched, stark white uniforms (we couldn’t sit on the buses – wrinkles, you know).  Miss King and Mrs. Du Gas handed our diplomas to us as we juggled roses, diploma, and shaking hands without a fumble.  We had some time to make up, RN exams to write but we were graduates.

We first met each other September 15, 1958 as we entered the residence and found our rooms. We soon made friends with our neighbours- all in alphabetical order.   We soon expanded our friendships as we went through ward rotations and classes.  Nursing Arts taught by Miss Beswetherwick – “feet should be on the floor and they should have shoes on them”;  Miss F. Fleming and Pharmacology –  “Whew, It’s hot in here” as she wiped her brow and Miss Sim, were some of the instructors.  And who was the Anatomy Instructor who lost the lamb’s heart for classroom study which later beat it way into Lois’ bed and several other places before it lost its cold, clammy shock value!

Then there was the case of the Kissing Nurse – as new probies, we were all agog.   Wow!  It seemed that rules were strict. Roll call in the morning when we had to report to the classroom in proper uniform  Some classmates found it difficult to get up in the morning even with such strategies as multiple alarms, dousing with water, and turning the tap on with the sink plugged (there were some floods – Oops!).

We worked on many wards both general and speciality.  Our maps of the tunnels were lifesavers.

Much of our leisure time was spent in residence with all the attending rules.  We had some food – peanut butter, bread, jam, and eggs in our lounges but they could be withheld for minor infractions of the rules.  When they were tearing up Heather St, some night nurses trying to get some sleep pelted the workers with eggs, they continued to jackhammer.  They tried bread soaked in water with a note pinned to it (quite a missile thrown from the 8th floor!) with no cessation of the noise outside.  The workers evidently complained to the residence director – then the noise occurred inside! – unbecoming actions, workers could have been harmed etc.

Bridge games were another leisure activity that was ongoing. We learned from one another with the result that some of the rules bore no relation to the actual rules – confounding future bridge partners.  We put on our fashion show several times with a hilarious commentary or so we thought at the time.  Most of the holidays were enjoyed along with visits from Santa and we painted our windows with Xmas themes.

Gathering in rooms after lights out and trying not to get caught by the matron was common.  One Halloween, it was wall to wall people.   In the am there was a huge semi circle of used wrappers, cigarette butts, smashed pumpkins and other garbage on the ground under the window.  What fun we had but we did have a slight problem denying responsibility.  Food, other than cafeteria food , was important and fresh fruit was a scarce commodity.  One summer we received several watermelons.  How to eat them without a mess was a problem solved by going down several floors and sitting on the floor dripping juice and spitting seeds.  We left the mess and the explaining to the other class.

Phone calls.  When the buzzer went in your room and those magic words came through “You have a phone call”, panic set in – where was there an empty phone booth and could you get there before they hung up; was Saturday night ruined; the race was on.

Saturday nights were date nights with maybe a late night pass.  One young swain probably very nervous, forgot to open the door and walked right through the heavy glass door.   One Saturday night, several of us dateless souls concocted a devious plan by which we entered two of our friends’ rooms and switched them around complete with all their personal stuff, all bulletin board items and even a magazine on the bed open to the exact same page.  Took us hours.  When the two happy students came home and opened their rooms, they thought they were in the wrong room, then they thought they were tipsy;  they were utterly confused.

Start of senior year meant getting white stockings and shoes but what to do with the well worn black shoes and stockings.  We smuggled one of the gas delivery men and a tank of helium up to the sundeck on the 8th floor.  Someone managed to get several weather balloons.  We released the helium filled balloons with stockings and shoes tied to them – and off they floated.  Such jubilation and cheering.  All was well until the DOT, RCMP, City Police, Hospital Administrative Staff, Fire Chief and Residence and Nursing staff and who knows who else got involved.   The balloons apparently floated up into the flight path to the airport – a federal jurisdiction.

We graduated at last

Who are we? One classmate stated – “I am convinced that … we were blessed to have received the best, most useful and practical preparation for the health care system and for ourselves in the world we entered.”

Sadly, six of our classmates have passed away.  We continue to remember them as our friends and classmates. Several of our classmates have not kept in touch; we miss them. Some of our classmates cannot attend the reunion due to illness or other circumstances; we will miss you and wish you well.

About Us: Some married early (some even in training – tsk! tsk! not allowed) and some married late, some never married and some married more than once. We are parents, aunts, grandparents, great-grandparents and most of all, friends. Fecundity is not an issue.  We have, as a class, 173 children, 101 grandchildren (and one on the way in May) and 18 great-grandchildren including step-children. What wonderful families we have no matter how small or how large.

Many of us have furthered our education after training – mostly in nursing/health related fields but some have explored other fields and found their niche in this world.  There have been self-reported 6 BSNs, `1 masters, and one doctoral in progress, 1 BA with teaching certificate.  Classmates have taken courses/diplomas/certificates in one or more of the following: Occupational Health, Public Health, Psychiatry, Geriatrics, Business, Rehabilitation, Real Estate agent, Music Therapy, Medical Office Nursing, Disaster Nursing, Holistic Nursing, to name a few.

Since graduation, most of us have travelled – some extensively, some not.  We have travelled to all the continents and worked in most.  As we have retired, the travelling seems to have increased with the added leisure time.  Some of us have enjoyed less strenuous activities than we did in the past.

Most of us do some type of volunteer work that gives us purpose and enjoyment.

We are the class of Sept ’61