Monday, October 31, 2011
The Big Picture: Meet one of Sunnybrook's Veterans Centre residents
Sunnybrook is blessed with an amazing photography team who, arguably, know every person (and their backstory!) in this ten thousand strong workforce. So when I got an email from one of them with a video link, I was intrigued.
What appeared on my computer was completely unexpected: an old black and white mini-documentary of a young Reuters photographer named Patricia Holden. Over a peppy male voiceover, the video showed Patricia on assignment photographing a baby, and then returning back to the newsroom to develop her film and finish the job. Like an early Mary Tyler Moore, she was dressed in a knee-length tweed skirt and smart hat, world at her feet. How appropriate that the Pathe Pictorial video, produced just after the Second World War, was entitled “Women Going Places.” Today, more than half a century later, Patricia is still going places, having recently become a new resident of Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre. I literally couldn’t wait to meet her in person.
A few days after watching this grainy slice of history on my MAC, I walked into Patricia’s room over in Sunnybrook’s K wing. She was sitting quietly by the window in a wheelchair, looking outside at the early fall weather. Her windowsill was covered with pictures in frames, as was the wall behind her bed. From General Eisenhower to Shirley Temple, it was a fabulously random mix that I was soon to learn perfectly reflected her unexpected ascent into this line of work. She turned to say hello and shake my hand. Despite the decades that had divided her from that early video, I recognized her right away. Eyes never change, you know? After a few pleasantries, I started our interview with what I thought was a simple question: How did you get into photography? As I mentioned earlier, her path into this pioneering role for women of her day wasn’t at all what I had expected.
In 1942, Patricia and some girlfriends happened to walk by a recruitment office when they noticed some very cute boys hanging around outside. Thinking it would be a good way to find dates, they signed up for the Royal Canadian Air Force. But as only the cruel ways of fate can script, Patricia was posted to the Women’s manning depot. No men allowed! Frustrated with the all-female environment, she jumped at a Wing Officer’s offer to keep busy by learning the art of photography. Following a challenging course, she passed and started her career in pictures. While she admits to professionally feeling like a babe in the woods for a while, she was happy her new job at least opened the door to more co-ed working environments!
Over the next few years, Patricia would go on to capture a huge range of images, from weddings and medal presentations to funerals and bombings. After the war, Reuters hired her to shoot fashion, celebrities and various daily assignments. It was there that the documentary emailed to me was produced. You can view the entire thing here yourself.
Just so you know, Patricia eventually enjoyed many dates and even found herself a honey. Art Collins was a fighter pilot who was awarded the French Legion of Honour and distinguished Flying Cross. They married and raised five children together. While she didn’t meet him on that sunny day outside the recruitment office in 1942, we all know love works on its own schedule.
Now windowed, Patricia has been a resident of Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre for several months. Amazingly, she remembers being sent on assignment here to photograph Sunnybrook’s opening. We sat and talked about how funny the coincidence of that was, when things come full circle in life. Kind of like seeing a video from the 1940’s and then meeting its main character in person. Funny and wonderfully unexpected.
With Remembrance Day around the corner, it’s a reminder of the value in the stories and lessons we can learn from our veterans. Take the time to ask and listen. As I learned, it just might be one of the most surprising and fulfilling conversations you’ll ever have.
For more information on the Veterans Centre, and learn how you can help support a Veteran through Operation Raise a Flag.
Watch this week's video on YouTube
- blog post and video by Monica Matys