KAMLOOPS, B.C. — “I’ve got to show you something,” said the petite grandmother, as she stood up from her chair in a study room at the Kamloops Law Courts library.
Sheila Parenteau, 78, tucked a thumb under the elastic waistband of her pants. She leaned back a little and, while lifting her sweater, she pushed her waistband down to expose a Betty Boop tattoo on her lower right abdomen.
“I got that in 2000,” she said proudly.
Parenteau stands barely four-feet-11, but her personality is Amazonian in height. This is one tiny grandma who needs no help crossing the roughest of roads.
“People call me ‘Shorty’ and I say, ‘Well, at least God was so smart he got it all together in a package this size,”’ she chirped.
“He didn’t need anything bigger.”
This retired nurse has been spending recent afternoons in the law library studying for her LSAT (Law School Admission Test) — the exam that will gain her entrance to Thompson Rivers University’s new law program.
Parenteau will take the test in June, just two months after she turns 79.
“Education has always been important,” said the Kamloops senior.
“At my age now it’s critical because I just have so much good that I want to do.”
Besides, she said, she’s never been one to sit still. Parenteau was born in Nova Scotia, the middle child in a family of 11, with “a lot of insecurities” she attributed to middle-child syndrome.
She spent the first part of her working life as a licensed practical nurse before upgrading to become an RN in 1984.
Parenteau worked as an RN for more than 20 years, finally giving it up two years ago because she said she could no longer lift 200-pound patients. There’s more to it, though, including some alleged age discrimination, but Parenteau doesn’t elaborate.
Any challenges to her skills or character have simply made her stronger, more focused — more determined to fight injustice, whether it be in her own life or in the lives of others.
“It is not about money,” said Parenteau of her desire to become a lawyer.
“I will help people who do not have the finances to pay big, big money. It’s critical they know they have someone who cares about them, not their pocketbook.”
Just two weeks shy of her 79th birthday, it begs the question: Why not retire and live a nice, relaxing life visiting the great-grandchildren?
It’s not about being a workaholic, insists Parenteau.
“My long-term goal is to live till I’m 150 and get shot by a jealous wife,” she said with a laugh.
“So I have a lot of living to do.”
There are no jealous wives on the horizon (at least, Parenteau isn’t admitting to any), but there is that little matter of a law degree. Step one: passing the entrance exam on June 11.
“I don’t even say ‘if.’ I say, ‘When I get my law degree,”’ said Parenteau. “There’s no two ways about it.”
Parenteau will be 82 when she graduates, 83 after she completes one year of articling. After that, she plans to open her own law practice, specializing in taxation law.
Now, back to that Betty Boop tattoo — it’s not the only ink on Parenteau’s body.
She also has a tattoo of Warner Brothers’ Tasmanian Devil.
That one is on her butt.