As Gail Levi prepared for her official retirement after 34 years of nursing in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, she was expecting a small celebration — maybe a cake, some fond farewells.
Instead, the community held a parade for him.
“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 I have been shown.”
On March 31, decked out in a pageant-style sash with the words “I’m retired!” on it, Levi ate lunch, texted and paraded to retirement.
Community members put her in a chair in the back of a truck for a drive around town, surrounded by other vehicles and a fire truck, while other people watched and banged pots .
The teachers took the students out of the classrooms, posters and placards in hand, to applaud the passing of the parade.
One person collected video testimonials from nurses who had been to Arctic Bay, saying how much they enjoyed working there. People brought her flowers and gifts, shared a meal with her, and sent her congratulatory text messages.
Levi, formerly Gail Redpath before getting married a few years ago, has no plans to leave the community that has become her home and where she has spent most of her career.
She has been a nurse since 1973 and moved to Arctic Bay in 1988, where she eventually became supervisor of health programs.
“I can’t imagine a better career. I loved it. I feel very, very privileged to have done what I did and to work where I work,” she said.
Looking back on his career, Levi said the moments that stood out were the life-and-death situations where healthcare workers came together to provide people with proper care or to help them through crises.
“That’s the most rewarding part of the job, was knowing you were making a difference in people’s lives.”
She hopes to see some of the young people in Arctic Bay pursue careers 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 coming in – I guess it was mutual learning from each other,” she said. “I’m afraid my Inuktitut is pretty weak considering I’ve been here so long, but I think for me it’s been the most wonderful career.”
In the years to come, Levi hopes to contribute to his community in new ways. She’s still exploring how to do that, whether it’s serving on the daycare board or returning to 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 and I’m not doing very well,” she laughed.
Retiring from her supervisory role means a change for the health center which has become accustomed to her presence, but she hopes that this change will be easy for the nurses who will follow in her footsteps and for the community in general.
“I hope my presence in town can be reassuring. Some people consider me their mother, I think. So mom is still in town,” she said.