Pat Saunders has no plans to slow down
By Mark Newman, News Staff
Like the Energizer bunny, Patricia Saunders says she keeps going and going.
“I can’t die, I’m too busy,” said the 83-year-old west Mountain resident (who is known as Pat to just about everyone) volunteer and activist who keeps a schedule that would leave a lot of much younger people exhausted.
“I have endless energy,” said Saunders, after being named Hamilton’s 2014 Senior of the Year at an awards gala last month.
The first woman to chair the Hamilton Police Services Board, Saunders is or has been a member of dozens of local groups and organizations for more than a half century.
“Why are you here unless you’re doing something?” replied Saunders, when asked about her busy schedule.
A public healthcare advocate, Saunders noted her activist roots were planted in Amulet, Saskatchewan, where she was born.
“I was raised at the knee of (Saskatchewan CCF leader and later premier) Tommy Douglas,” Saunders recalled. “My mother worshipped the ground he walked on.”
Saunders, then Pat Merian, and her family came toHamiltonin 1941.
At age 18 she married Harry Saunders and began the next phase of her life as a west Mountain housewife looking after five children.
“Just prior to middle age I realized that there was more to life than being a full-time homemaker,” said Saunders who had dropped out of Hill Park.
She went back to night school to get her high school diploma.
Saunders said her interest in social work was ignited after she got a part-time job as an overnight relief worker at Lynwood Hall in the early 1960s.
“I learned what life for emotionally disturbed children was all about,” said Saunders, whose interest in social work led her to the School of Social Work at McMaster University where she graduated with bachelor degrees in social work and psychology in 1973.
She was one of the oldest students in the program.
“It wasn’t uncommon for the students to think I was the prof,” Saunders recalled.
With her new degrees in hand, she was hired as a social worker at what was then called the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital (now know as St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s West 5th campus) where she worked for 24 years before taking mandatory retirement at age 65.
Among her more passionate endeavours was the campaign to maintain the name of Nora Frances Henderson on the new Concession Street hospital.
But why would a card-carrying NDP supporter push to honour Henderson, who defied the steel workers union during the great Stelco strike of 1946?
“I’d like to think that if Nora were alive today I could persuade her to become an NDPer because she had all the values,” said Saunders, who recalls the strike and her admiration of Henderson’s courage and tenacity at the time. “I know that some people feel she crossed the picket line, but she did it in the context of standing up for people’s rights.”
A grandmother of six and great grandmother of one, Saunders said she keeps busy through a variety of activities including perusing her love of Canadian history as president of the Women’s Canadian Club of Hamilton, the Hamilton chapter of the Council of Canadians and as the founding member of Friends of Auchmar.
“Auchmar is a passion,” said Saunders who is adamant that the 19th century mansion at Fennell and West 5th remain in the city’s hands.