Four Conversations, a Series of Inspiration

By Kristian Partington

I’m often inspired by the people I speak with for the stories I write, but this week has been especially striking.

I had the opportunity to interview four women from completely separate backgrounds, and through each conversation I found myself admiring the compassion and dedication they hold so close.

For one article I wrote about a conference that brought together some of the country’s brightest young minds to tackle questions of sustainability.

I spoke with a Mount Allison student of international relations, economics and environmental science named Keleigh Annau, who was at the conference as an alumni facilitator and presenter. 

She spoke of the need to combine talents, passions, and knowledge as we look to correct the mistakes of the past in a more sustainable future. She also talked about an initiative she spearheaded called Lights Out Canada — a concept so simple in its brilliance that it’s caught on across the country.

For the same article I connected with the manager of sustainability and corporate citizenship with The Co-operators, the company that, along with several partners, organized the conference.

Wendy Carruthers works day in day out, through the power of the company she works for and beyond, to make the world a better place. She told me how lucky she feels in her job, and though the lines between work and home life may blur at times, she pushes forward with a genuine desire to make a difference.

So there were two inspiring women, striving to make a difference in the world; good start to my week.

Then, for a different article, I had to venture into a dark period in Canadian history and draw out a positive that came from it. I spoke with Monica Danon-Schaffer, an engineer who travels the globe auditing operations for environmental sustainability and pushing for responsible development — an inspiring job in its own right.

But I interviewed Monica about a different role she has a new director with a foundation set up in the aftermath of the Montreal Massacre of December, 1989, when a crazed gunman took the lives of 14 women at École Polytechnique.

He hated feminists and killed those women because they were studying engineering. The Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation was created not long after that black December day as a way to support and encourage women in the field.

While studying for her PhD, Monica was a recipient of one the many grants the foundation has offered in the past 20 years, and she now has the privilege and honour of giving back to the fund that means so much to her on several fronts.

While I reflected on Monica’s story and the savagery of shootings in Montreal, my phone rang. The soft voice on the other end of the line was Lorna van Mossel, an elderly woman who lives at the Village of Winston Park, a retirement home in Kitchener.

The general manager of the village suggested I speak with her about the lifetime achievement award she received at the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest Women of the Year gala.

Lorna had dedicated her life to the principles of social justice and fairness for everyone in society, and she has a soft spot for the marginalized and vulnerable. She was recognized for her work helping new Canadians settle into their new homes — work she began with her late husband, Bert, when Vietnam War refugees began settling in Kitchener-Waterloo in the 1970s.

She told me it’s a dedication she’s proud of and work that never ends, though her eyesight is failing as she ages.

Her compassion rang clear as we spoke and I could’ve talked with her for hours, but I had an article to write, so we kept it to about 20 minutes.

I hung up the phone and thought for a time about what passion and dedication mean and how, in the context of four conversations, I had been inspired.

We’ll see what next week brings.

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