Arctic Bay nurse 'overwhelmed' as community throws her a retirement parade

·3 min read
Seated in the back of a truck, Gail Levi waves to a crowd of people in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, who came out on March 31, waving signs and posters, to celebrate her retirement after 34 years as a community nurse. (Submitted by Gail Levi - image credit)
Seated in the back of a truck, Gail Levi waves to a crowd of people in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, who came out on March 31, waving signs and posters, to celebrate her retirement after 34 years as a community nurse. (Submitted by Gail Levi - image credit)

As Gail Levi prepared for her official retirement after 34 years of nursing in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, she expected a small celebration — maybe a cake, a few fond farewells.

Instead, the community threw her a parade.

"It was so touching — I mean, I could have cried all day, it was so amazing," Levi said.

"I feel overwhelmed with the love and appreciation that I've been shown."

On March 31, decked out in a pageant-style sash with the words "I'm Retired!" on it, Levi lunched, texted and paraded her way into retirement.

Community members put her in a chair on the back of a truck for a drive through town, surrounded by other vehicles and a fire truck, as other people watched and banged pots.

Teachers took students out of classes, posters and signs in hand, to clap as the parade went past.

Submitted by Mark Long
Submitted by Mark Long

One person put together video testimonials from nurses that had been to Arctic Bay, saying how they'd appreciated working there. People brought her flowers and gifts, shared a meal with her and sent her congratulatory text messages.

Levi, formerly Gail Redpath before she married a couple years ago, has no plans to leave the community that has become her home and where she has spent the large bulk of her career.

She's been a nurse since 1973 and moved to Arctic Bay in 1988, where she eventually became the supervisor of health programs.

"I can't think of a better career. I have loved it. I feel very, very privileged to have done what I've done, and to work where I work," she said.

Submitted by Mark Long
Submitted by Mark Long

Thinking back over her career, Levi said the moments that stand out were the life-and-death situations where health staff pulled together to get people appropriate care or to help them through crises.

"That's the most rewarding part of the job, was knowing that you made a difference in people's lives."

She hopes to see some of Arctic Bay's young people pursue a career in nursing. The profession could have an even greater impact if nurses are part of their community's culture and speak Inuktitut, she noted — and nurses can pass that knowledge on to each other, too.

"I was always learning from new nurses that came up — I guess it was a mutual learning from each other," she said. "I'm afraid my Inuktitut is pretty feeble, considering I've been up here so long, but I think for me it's been the most wonderful career."

Submitted by June Sanceda
Submitted by June Sanceda

In the coming years, Levi hopes to contribute to her community in new ways. She's still exploring how to do that, whether becoming part of the board for the day care or getting back into politics, which she dabbled in in the 1990s.

"I don't have a very concrete plan, to be honest — my only concrete plan was to sleep in and I'm not doing very well at that," she laughed.

Retiring from her supervisory role means change for the health centre that's gotten used to having her around, but she hopes that change will be easy for the nurses who follow in her footsteps and for the community at large.

"I hope my being in town might keep some reassurance. Some people think of me as their mother, I think. So mom's still in town," she said.

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