1920-2001

On March 3, 2001 the profession of occupational therapy suffered a great loss with the passing of one of its most dedicated leaders, Dr. Thelma Cardwell. Her funeral was held on March 7 and the following eulogy was given by Dr. Judy Friedland.

 

I am honoured to have been asked to speak about Thelma and to try to acknowledge the great gift that she has given to all who knew her. I speak as a representative of the Occupational Therapy profession, as a colleague, and as a friend.

I have known Thelma since my student days in Physical and Occupational Therapy, at the University of Toronto (U of T) in the late 1950s. My early memories of Thelma are as a teacher. Although she must have taught many subjects, I remember her for the mental health component of the course. She was able to impart complex knowledge along with compassion and a strong belief of how occupational therapy could help. We, as students, felt we were discovering a fascinating new world. She taught us to convey to our patients our sincere interest, to approach our work with confidence, and to see the patient as a whole. She was always well prepared and thorough and we all thought the world of "Mrs. Cardwell". I must also just note that Thelma's stylish grace added a further dimension to her words of wisdom. In those days, in the "huts" on Devonshire, stylish grace was no easy thing. Thelma wore beautiful clothes and she wore them beautifully. Attention to her appearance never waned; indeed, it took her a while to accept that pants were not just for the cottage but could actually be worn "out".

I saw Thelma from time to time after my graduation in 1960 but did not keep in close contact. I knew, of course, that she was making her mark within the profession, both nationally and internationally. It was not until 1982 when Thelma, as acting director of the Division of Occupational Therapy, hired me to teach at U of T that we renewed our friendship. Over the last 10 years we – Thelma, Isobel and I – became especially good friends. I last saw Thelma just over two weeks ago at North York General. She was terribly weak, had a dreadful cough, and just about every organ and system seemed to have packed up on her. Yet she was her usual, gracious self. She made a fuss over the flowers I brought and told Isobel just where to place them. She wanted to know all about what was happening at the University. She apologized when she had to ask for something, not wanting to be a bother. Her usual strong voice was soft but still clear and warm. She seemed to be enduring her pain and discomfort with the dignity and calm that one had come to expect from Thelma, under whatever circumstances.

But let me go back and fill in some gaps about this extraordinary woman whose life we honour and celebrate to-day. After graduating from the University of Toronto in Occupational Therapy in 1942, Thelma worked in several hospitals in Toronto. She went overseas in 1944, and was among the first occupational therapists to serve as a commissioned officer with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Her academic career began upon her return to Toronto in 1945 and with one brief absence, she remained at U of T until she took early retirement in 1983.

Thelma made an enormous contribution to the profession of occupational therapy over this 40-year period. Indeed, the list of her achievements is long and weighty. Although she worked with the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT), virtually all of her professional life, taking on many roles, heading committees and serving on the executive, she made her most dramatic contribution by being elected as the first President of CAOT who was an occupational therapist. That sounds strange to us today, but from 1926 when the CAOT was founded, until 1966 when Thelma became President, all presidents of CAOT had been physicians.

In a similar fashion, Thelma gave her time to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, (WFOT), initially to help them get started and to gain status as a non-governmental organization within the World Health Organization. She helped build the WFOT and for six years was its Secretary-Treasurer. When she left that position, tribute was paid to the stability she had achieved for the WFOT, the accuracy of her work, and her vision for the future. In 1967, she began a five-year term as President of the WFOT. At her final meeting in 1972 in Oslo, Norway, she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding contribution. Her 12 years of service had created a record that was considered unique in the annals of the Federation. Meanwhile, Thelma continued as a full-time faculty member at U of T and, of course, maintained an active role with CAOT. With these accomplishments in hand, it was perhaps not surprising that in 1977, she was awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal.

Indeed, Thelma's many accomplishments have resulted in many special honours. In recognition of her service to the profession, Thelma was made a life member of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists, CAOT, and the WFOT. In 1983, The Thelma Cardwell Scholarship was established by the CAOT to honour her contributions, and in that same year, never content to sit back, and recognizing the need to build research capacity within the discipline, Thelma helped to found the Canadian Occupational Therapy Foundation. In 1985 Thelma received an Honorary Doctorate from Dalhousie University. This degree recognized not only her past professional achievements but also the support that she had offered to the development of that new program. Becoming "Dr. Cardwell", was a proud moment for Thelma, and she especially cherished that honour. In 1997, the University of Toronto established The Thelma Cardwell Lecture Series as an expression of its gratitude for and recognition of her contributions.

While we hold Thelma Cardwell's accomplishments in the highest esteem, there is yet something more that we are celebrating today. We are celebrating a woman who was cherished by all who were privileged to know her. Thelma was a builder as well as a leader, and was always supportive and enthusiastic. She was compassionate and trusting. She exuded calm. She always appeared confident but was not above saying that she didn't always feel that way. She always did her homework and was thoroughly prepared. She was generous with her time and her knowledge. She willingly and humbly shared the wisdom she had acquired. She received a great deal of attention for her accomplishments - but she never sought it. What she did was selfless and for the good of the profession. She had a delightful sense of humour and a great sense of fun. She was always approachable and indeed, one has a picture of Thelma at professional events, surrounded by former students and colleagues, all of whom were made to feel special. She made friends wherever she went and it will be some solace to Isobel and the family when, over this next while, they receive expressions of sadness and celebration from friends all over the world.

Thelma was devoted to the profession, and to her friends, and to her family, and especially to Isobel. The team of "Thelma and Isobel" was a powerful force; they complemented and supported one another, and gave of themselves to the University of Toronto and to the profession. While all of us will feel the loss of Thelma deeply, it will be most profound for Isobel; Isobel, who never left Thelma's side during these last six months.

Thelma challenged occupational therapists to be vocal and confident in representing themselves. Fortunately, we had Thelma to set us an example. Thank you Thelma for your strong and enduring leadership, for your mentoring, for your inspiration, and for your friendship. As you were fiercely proud of our profession, so are we proud of you.