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Address to convocation - Dr. Minnie J. Vallis

October 8, 2010

Feelings can sometimes be difficult to put into words. It is a wonderful honour to realize being a volunteer can bring you this podium – humbling experience to realize you did not reach this point strictly on your own. If my family, my friends, my supporters were to stand beside me on this stage, which is truly where they belong, I would be merely another pebble on the beautiful beach of this physical journey of life.

My blessings and my deepest thanks to everyone responsible for this award. A quick review of several pictures of being a volunteer.

There are parts of our ancestry we want to maintain such as the art of square dancing. So a 50-plus square dance group is put together and once a week with local music, we spend two hours trying to stay in shape. Meanwhile I am also a volunteer with two schools doing various programs. One school decides the art of square dancing should be shared with the Grade 12s. Instructions to me from the school: “The school has its own musicians; can you be ready to begin at 9:30 a.m.?”

At 9:30 the group with music goes through the entire process … demonstrating the various steps, twists and turns involved. Next, each senior dancer is paired with a student of the opposite sex to go through the entire process again. A young gentleman approaches me, estimated guess – six-feet tall, 160 pounds, and to say handsome is putting it mildly. With a sort of a shy smile he takes my hand and says, “Mrs. Vallis, I’m almost sure I can follow all the moves, but I’m sorry, I’m not a swinger. I know I can’t swing.” (Now believe me, that is pure music to the ears of a senior at that hour of the day!)

Governing Laws and Regulations

The building code and various disability issues -- enough loopholes in the building code that one could drive a tractor-trailer through the loops. The fact that you were confined to a wheelchair, or living with a physical disability and had to climb three flights of stairs to see a doctor, appeared to be of little importance at that time. A strong leader in the field of disabilities had been awarded the Order of Canada. Congratulations, Joanne, we are all having a problem keeping pace with you.

The Mental Health Act …

The language and regulations belonged to the 1400s era… so it’s hours and days on end trying for a lot of changes.

The Matrimonial Property Act

“A man’s home is his castle,” as was said to me by those in the upper echelons. Not easily intimidated, it’s back to the drawing board again. A quick glance at another volunteer job.

To begin, numerous telephone calls requesting assistance. A proposed amendment to the Pensions Act related to ex-wives of civil servants. Pensions would be reduced based on the premise women in NL live eight to ten years longer than men.

Undercover it’s back to the press. Mrs. X and Mrs. Y (not using real names) relating the financial hardships that would be incurred should this amendment be passed. If women in the province live eight to ten years longer than men, an important piece of this puzzle is missing in the proposed amendment: health-related factors. Health wise, what happens in the last eight to ten years of women’s lives?

Letters were drafted and a copy sent to every MHA in the House of Assembly. A full report was sent to a newspaper in St. John’s. My telephone number became a hot line, my mail box on overflow… the results? The proposed amendment was cancelled!


Some volunteer jobs turn into comedy shows…

Five small towns being pushed to amalgamate. Meetings with taxpayers and various planning meetings for the final meeting with the top brass. Top brass arrives, the town hall is packed, takes out his gavel, raps, ready to begin. PAUSE – Neither mayor here yet – a quiet knock, the double doors are opened. Quietly and slowly, the undertaker (yours truly), accompanied by my deputy mayor, dressed as the angel of death carrying a hand sickle. Following us, four male mayors acting as pallbearers; carrying a small white casket with five crosses on the cover bearing the names of the five towns.

We proceed to the stage. Through an opening in the floor, we bury the casket. I conduct the burial service.

(You need to know I was turned down for my second school assignment because the school was located in a bay that usually froze over during the winter, thereby not accessible to the clergy. Authorities ruled being a woman teacher, I was forbidden to conduct funerals.) Amalgamation had no such laws…(of all things, we forgot to call the press!)

Very beautiful pictures on the memory album of a volunteer worker!!

Let’s quickly change the picture…

What happens when the daredevil pack leader suddenly finds herself straddling two worlds? One foot in this world, the other foot in another world beyond this one? First person to my rescue is with us today. He received the highest award for risking your own life to save another. Thank you again, Leroy.

Next in line was one of the world’s finest neurosurgeons. Without surgery, grim outlook, and with surgery, a 50/50 chance. Following surgery, it’s a wheelchair, double vision, loss of taste, touch, smell and hearing. If anyone doesn’t believe that education is one of the greatest gifts to humanity, they are desperately in need of upgrading.

When shown a picture of a car in a 17-foot deep pond of water, and told it’s yours, and you can’t read one word, there are problems waiting outside the hospital.

With a lot of information and exercise, my family is informed –“tough love” will definitely be required to get this to work. There was a three-month deadline: without results, you would be dealing with (my words) a vegetable.

So, I end with a question to you…

Was my partner of 62 years, were my family, my friends and supporters capable of rendering tough love and support on a volunteer basis to the needs of another person?

I leave that for you to decide.

My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to everyone.