Patricia and Jean Stephens are a mother and daughter living and working under the same roof: an ideal pairing to profile as Mother’s Day approaches.
Patricia Stephens is a resident of Abbeyfield and her daughter Jean, an employee of the seniors’ home based in Port Alberni.
Pat Stephens (née Barr) was born in Vancouver to Tim, from Nova Scotia, whose parents were originally from Northern Ireland and had immigrated to the Maritime province at the beginning of the century, and Isabel, who was originally from northern B.C.
“My dad moved to B.C. and worked for the BC Electric Company (which later became BC Hydro). He also worked as an engineer on the freight train and as a conductor in Vancouver’s streetcars,” says Pat.
By the age of eight, Pat was already learning crochet and other craft skills she would carry with her through her lifetime.
In need of work, her normal schooling ended at the age of 16, as she joined EMCO, a Vancouver company that sold plumbing items to different stores in the province. “I worked there as a switchboard operator and office clerk preparing invoices and bills for our clients.”
A month before her 21st birthday, Pat married Norman Stephens, originally from Nova Scotia, who worked for the B.C. highways department. He was part of the crew that built the Vancouver-Hope asphalt-based highway.
After the highway contract ended the couple was affected financially since Norman became unemployed. “Well, we managed to survive because we had saved enough money for my husband’s two-year unemployment time. We were good money savers,” Pat said.
The couple had their oldest child, Jean, who was born in 1961 in Vancouver. Later, they had a second daughter who died as a baby.
Knowing that Norman’s brother Doug lived in Alberni, the family moved to Sproat Lake in 1967. Jean was six years old at the time and was ready to start her schooling, so her parents enrolled her in Sproat Lake Elementary School.
The family lived in that area for 10 years, but the weather, says Pat, was not very inviting and led them to move to the city. “Norman found a job as a mailman at the main post office, which was on Argyle Street. He worked there for the next 30 years,” she adds.
Jean, on the other hand, had finished her schooling at Alberni District Secondary School, and was hired to work in the old hospital, right behind where Abbeyfield is located now (it was the extended care unit at that time).
“I was employed to do dietary services, which was followed later on by housekeeping and laundry—a job I did until my retirement, after 40 years at the West Coast General Hospital,” Jean said.
When she turned 21, she got a year off from work and went to Australia with two friends. There she travelled the country, and also, in order to save money to return to Canada, she worked on a farm during the apple season.
In addition to her regular job at the hospital, and after retirement, Jean developed her artistic interest in stained glass and photography. In fact, many of her stained glass artworks have been displayed and sold at craft fairs in the Valley.
Jean is also a volunteer who gives her time to various local organizations. She is a member of the AV Lions Club, where she helps at their annual auction and pre-COVID-19 pandemic, at the Lions’ Picnic—a well-known summer event. She has also been providing assistance at the Lions fishing derby for kids. And at Christmastime she volunteers for the Salvation Army kettle drive.
For the past year, Jean has been a part-time worker in Abbeyfield. “I didn’t plan to work here, but during my regular visits to mom, I was asked if I was interested in a job,” she said. “And I like it here, not only because I get to see Mom all the time, but because it is a nice place to work and visit.”
— Orlando Delano writes the monthly Valley Seniors feature for the Alberni Valley News