“When I was twelve, I came to St. Michael’s to visit my mother and to see my new baby brother Paul who had just been born there. I remember being impressed by everything I saw – that’s when I decided to become a nurse.”
Betty’s St. Michael’s story actually begins earlier than that experience: she was born at the hospital, as were all her siblings, and was even baptized in the chapel here. Her mother, who had trained as a nurse in Saskatoon, did post-graduate training in OR nursing at St. Michael’s and then managed the cystoscopy department for many years. Her aunt Jeannette and her future mother-in-law also trained here. Several years later, after completing her own nursing training at St. Michael’s, she would receive her black band in a ceremony in the chapel on Christmas Eve, as was the tradition. Her best St. Michael’s memory was of working on the Obstetrics floor:
There was such camaraderie. Everyone pitched in and helped out. I really enjoyed it.
Betty would continue at the hospital as a clinical instructor on the Obstetrics floor through the sixties until the birth of her daughter Marie. Even then, Betty says, “I was back at St. Michael’s – but in a different position! The care was wonderful.” Many members of Betty’s family – grandfather, father, mother, aunt and mother-in-law – experienced that care as well. When her father was in the palliative care unit, she found his treatment – and the help extended to the family – was “personal and loving. It was like family, they all really cared.”
The last time Betty was at St. Michael’s was visiting her mother who was having cataract surgery; she remembers thinking as she passed the site of the old Obstetrics unit: “I bet my footsteps are worn right into this floor.”
Betty’s brother, Tony Comper, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Bank of Montreal, had his own connection to the hospital as director and Vice Chair of the hospital board. He came on board at the time when the nuns, who then ran St. Michael’s, were having financial problems. “Tony worked hard to turn the situation around,” recalls Betty, “and continues to be a supporter of the hospital to this day, donating in memory of his wife Elizabeth. He encouraged me to share my memories of St. Michael’s.” Tony, Betty and her husband Garth, who was also born at St. Michael’s, are supporting the creation of a new Ambulatory Infusion Centre in the new Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower.
Betty’s nursing class will celebrate its 55th reunion next year, and she is looking forward to seeing all the changes at the hospital.
When asked why it’s important to support St. Michael’s, Betty says, “It’s a great hospital. St. Michael’s has an important place in the community and in the history of Toronto. Over the course of 100 years, it’s transformed from a charity hospital to a major health-care centre. However, you can still see the ethics of the sisters in the caring and kindness that you don’t always get in other places. I am very pleased to support St. Michael’s: it was like a second home to me, and I made so many wonderful friends.”
(Top photo: Betty on her graduation in 1962; Bottom photo: Betty and her husband, Garth)