Gwyn Teatro
If It Is To Be, It's Up To Me


On May 29, 1967, I walked into the Head Office of a major bank in Toronto to begin my first day of work. I was nineteen, not very sophisticated and not very confident.  I remember making my way to the bank of elevators inside the building and tentatively joining a crowd of busy and grumpy others in an elevator car complete with uniformed elevator operator.

This particular operator exuded the kind of boredom that could only be experienced by someone who spent her entire day travelling up and down.  She looked in my direction for a clue as to where I might want to go.   I cleared my throat, bravely opened my mouth, and squeaked out, Florth Foor Pease.

The elevator operator smirked a little but said nothing.   She was not to know that this day would turn out to a very important one.  And, I was not to know that my short journey to the fourth Floor that day would mark the beginning of a career that would last for thirty-two years.

Not many people can do that any more, work for the same organization for thirty-two years.  You could say it is where I grew up.  It is where I learned about learning.  And too, it is where I learned that if I were going to make anything of myself, opportunity would not come knocking on my door, tied up with a tidy red ribbon.  I would have to seek it out… and work for it.


My first job was in the mailroom. I sat, like the proverbial rose between two rather thorny but not unpleasant Scotsmen, who tutored me in subjects like dirty joke appreciation 101 and Profanity 102.  A man name Maurice balanced out this questionable part of my education by teaching me the value of using more socially acceptable words.  Maurice was a regular reader of the Oxford dictionary.  He was a unique and decidedly eccentric person but clearly one who loved words.  As time went on, I came to love words too and more importantly to appreciate their power when forming and developing relationships.

I married just before my twentieth birthday. I thought I needed someone to take care of me.  I was a mother at 21. The prospect of motherhood scared me to death and on the day the doctor put my tiny son in my very young arms, he gave me this advice.

It’s easy.  You feed one end.  Keep the other end dry and don’t drop the kid on his head.”

A little crass maybe, but it turned out to be good advice.  Motherhood was my initiation into the real world.  I had had hints of it before, having realized that my romantic notions of being taken care of in marriage were just that, romantic notions. But being a mother grounded me in a way that I’m not sure anything else could.  It made me responsible, made me care for the welfare of another human being more than I had ever previously imagined. And, it motivated me to take charge of my own life so that I could help my son grow too.  The growing up business was tough.  I had to work hard at it, both at home and at the office. But, I learned if you stick to something long enough, it begins to take hold.

At work, I moved from being a clerk to being Assistant to the personnel manager of the International Department of the Bank.  Her name was Mary and she said she chose me to work with her because I could type; I cleaned up reasonably well and I hadn’t ticked anyone off, yet.  (There was no chance of my getting an over-inflated opinion of myself based on those criteria.)  But, the relationship I had with Mary in the ensuing years was to prove very valuable.  I watched as she navigated her way around and through our male dominated environment.  I learned not only from her triumphs but from her disappointments and mistakes as well.  My time with her was valuable because it was a place where I could go where empathy lived and judgment didn’t.  Mentorships are like that, if they are going to be helpful that is.  They will give comfort and at the same time challenge us to be better, to take risks and be bold.  Mary did that for me.  Over the years, I lost track of her but I have never forgotten her.

In 1988, my marriage ended and I transferred from Toronto to Vancouver, just before my fortieth birthday…a fresh start I thought.  It was a good move for me but there were things and people, (well, especially people), from whom it hurt to be separate from.  At the time, my children were not best pleased with me but I knew in my heart that I had to make a change if only to avoid inflicting a bitter and miserable old woman on them later.  And, while this move was indeed something of a fresh start, I learned too, to believe in that old saying, “where ever you go, there you are”.  There was still a lot of work to do.

Professional Issue:

My work as Human Resources Manager for the Commercial Banking Sector, Western Canada was different from the work I had been doing at Head Office.  To say I made a less than positive impression on my new boss and colleagues would, in retrospect be an understatement.

I worked hard at building relationships with my colleagues and earning the trust of my immediate boss.  But, one day I realized it wasn’t going to be enough.  There were changes afoot in our organization and those of us in the Human Resources function were being asked to step up our contribution and to re-apply for what I considered to be our own jobs. 

Unfortunately I chose to take a rather arrogant approach to this process because really I believed that having been “around the block” there was little that I didn’t know.  However, the results of my interview proved me wrong.  This came as a complete shock to me, and worse.  I nearly lost my job because of it.  

Good fortune came in the shape and size of my boss, who must have seen enough worth salvaging to offer me the job anyway with the parting remark that went like this, “If I were you, I’d be going back to school and learning all I could”

He was a different kind of mentor, a tells- it- like- I- sees- it kind of guy. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about him but of all the professional people in my life, he was the one who successfully pushed my show-me-what-ya-got button…a different kind of mentor, yes, but mentor nonetheless.

And so I did, show him, I mean.

For the ensuing six years, I coupled my work schedule with my school schedule and formed a whole new relationship with learning.  It made me feel powerful.  It gave me confidence.  And, the contributions I made to the organization rose in value to the extent that I was invited to the Regional Board Table and asked to design and facilitate the Region’s strategic business meetings.  The Masters degree I earned was to me, secondary to the feeling I got when I could see the positive impact my work had on the collective effort.  It was at once self-affirming and humbling.

Personal Issue:

I have always been small.  When I was very young, practically every week I would ask my mother to measure me up against the wall to see if I had grown any.  She indulged me, but always with a kind of wry smile that whispered, “You’ll always be small, no matter how many times I measure you”

In time, I stopped asking.  But my physical stature inexplicably became a metaphor for how I saw my life and its prospects.  I was shy.  I hung in the background a lot.  I had low expectations of myself.  And it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t very bright either.

My experience at school in my later years and the choices I made then showed me a different me than the one I had always considered myself to be.  I learned to value myself beyond my earlier conceptions.  And, ironically I learned too that the older I get, the less I seem to know. 

I’m sixty something now. I’m a grandmother. For some people, that might suggest a certain level of wisdom. I figure though, that as long as I’m alive I will continue to learn and make mistakes and there will be people along the way who will teach me, if I am willing to listen and observe …and if I am willing to try.