Jan 14, 2015: For 23 years, Diane Gagnon was one of the Occupational Health Nurses at the Occupational Health Centre. But she was much more than her title. In every organization there are formal leaders and informal leaders. The formal leaders carry titles, but the informal ones embody the mission and values of the organization, shape its culture, and motivate others to do their best work. Diane was our leader, our moral compass. She was one of the last remaining staff members who had been mentored by the organization’s other great leader, Judy Cook. Diane carried on Judy’s legacy of a steadfast and passionate dedication to workers’ health and empowerment.
Diane had a rare ability to quickly establish rapport with a range of people from other health care professionals to manufacturing workers. After one of her presentations, I remember one railway worker dealing with the threat of massive layoffs remarking that Diane was a good listener. There was no higher praise for Diane and no one whose opinion she valued more highly than a worker’s – the people she had dedicated her career to serving.
Diane challenged all of us to make workers a priority in our decisions and our programs. She had a frustrating habit of usually being right when she pointed out something we had overlooked. Someone who had the courage to challenge those in authority, Diane was often chosen by our own group of workers to represent our interests with management. She was a union activist and deeply committed to the principles and objectives of the labour movement.
As one of our senior staff members, Diane was generous in sharing her knowledge and experience with the rest of us. She would often take the newer staff members under her wing and make herself available when advice or direction was needed. Over the years, these relationships would evolve into more equal and reciprocal relationships. She allowed us to grow and always wanted us to succeed.
Diane was also eager to learn from others. Every time she spoke with workers she would learn from their experience and share those learnings with all of us at OHC and with other workers. She was also open to learning from her colleagues and over the years we witnessed her grow and continually incorporate new ways of thinking and working into her extensive repertoire.
Family was very important to Diane. She made her family life a priority and encouraged us all to take care of ourselves and our families. She wanted workplaces to provide environments that would allow all workers to do this. She shared freely about her family life and often asked us about our families, making our workplace feel a little bit like an extended family.
Over the last couple of years as she confronted problems with her health, Diane continued to teach us by her example. She showed a depth of courage that will continue to inspire us in our own lives. She embraced life and enjoyed every opportunity to the fullest. And she kept reaching out and staying connected to others throughout her illness, demonstrating the powerful bonds of friendship, family, and community that reach into our workplaces and indeed into our hearts.
written by Karen Hamilton, co-worker