A woman who changed the course of nursing education in Alberta and never lost her passion for helping people was honoured for lifetime achievement at the Women of Excellence Awards in Red Deer on Wednesday.
Retired registered nurse and educator Mary Gardiner was recognized for a career and volunteerism that spans half a century at a ceremony attended by about 350 people at the Sheraton Centre.
Not only did Gardiner improve the lives of those suffering from mental illness, she also boosted the confidence of young nursing students, said Lorraine Way, a Red Deer College nursing instructor and member of the Board of Governors.
Way, who worked with the Indian Head, Sask,, native until her colleague’s retirement from the college in 1992, called Gardiner’s approach “ahead of her time.” She said her friend embraced the notion that people absorb information better “if they can see, hear and touch things” through hands-on learning.
During her dozen years at RDC, Gardiner started a practicum program pairing student nurses with experienced RNs in the field to help their transition into the workforce.
Way said Gardiner’s belief in mentorship “has stood the test of time,” since becoming the mandated standard in nurse training across the province.
She arrived in Alberta in 1957 to study psychiatric nursing at Alberta Hospital Ponoka. It was a time when shock, insulin and malaria therapy were still being used to treat the mentally ill. That soon changed with the advent of tranquilizers — “a huge shift,” recalled Gardiner, who credits her experience in Ponoka and her one-year stint working at an Anglo-American hospital in Brazil in 1958 for stirring her passion for helping people gain health.
Gardiner later researched and published an article on stigma in the mental health field. She authored a book on the 100-year history of Red Deer Hospital. Gardiner also consulted on health education and helped start a Primary Care Nursing in the Northwest Territories, and helped boost the funds of a charitable foundation that assists in nurse development from $36,000 to $11 million in just four years.
As well as being a wife and mother, she sat on many boards, won many awards, and excelled at tennis, winning at the provincial and national levels.
Way called her colleague a “high-energy dynamo” with a wicked sense of humor. “Sitting in the sidelines was not an option.”
Gardiner was caught off-guard at winning the lifetime achievement award, saying “I think I need the defibrillator machine I just installed at the Red Deer Tennis Club!”
She expressed her appreciation, adding “I am fiercely proud to be a nurse . . . and it’s so cool to be recognized for doing something I am so passionate about.” Gardiner credited her love of people for fuelled this passion. Her nursing students “taught me more than I taught them.”
Nineteen women were nominated for 2013 Women of Excellence Awards. There were 10 winners, including:
•Arts, Culture and Heritage Award: Sheila Bannerman, of Red Deer, who has a 30-year history with local heritage groups.
•Athletics, Recreation and Fitness Award: Kay Kenny, of Red Deer, the city’s recreation superintendent and chair of the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation, who has worked in the field for 35 years.
• Business and the Professions Award: Patricia Bourne, of Innisfail, general manager of EQUS, the newest and largest member-owned utility in Canada who has volunteered with many rural causes.
• Community Building Award: shared by Robin Armitage and Shirley Challoner, both of Red Deer. Armitage, advocated for underprivileged kids, as well as the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter and other groups. Challoner is a nurse of 30 years, social justice advocate and community volunteer.
• Education and Training Award: Judy Dorland, of Red Deer, artistic director of Strive Dance Academy, choreographer, adjudicator and examiner, whose students have achieved notable successes.
• Entrepreneurship Award: Katherina Cummins, of Sylvan Lake, who expanded her local Medi-Spa and Aesthetics and Laser School to Sherwood Park and volunteers in dance, the community gardening and other causes.
• Environment Award: Beverly Anderson, of Norglenwold, deputy mayor of her summer village, who has worked on many committees, and is former executive-director of the Red Deer Watershed Alliance.
• Human Services Award: Jan Underwood, of Red Deer, public awareness co-ordinator of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort who advocates for intercultural support and training.
These sixth-annual Women of Excellence Awards were presented by, and are the main fundraiser for, the Red Deer and District Community Foundation. The Red Deer Advocate was the presenting sponsor.