Norma Stenhouse was the ‘Grand Lady’ of Toronto’s Humber River Hospital (HRH).
Often referred to as noble and elegant, she had an unwavering commitment to her hospital and an unselfish art for giving.
But as the longest serving volunteer in the Hospital’s history – 51 years – Norma was also a visionary who anticipated the future needs of the Hospital. She helped to build the foundation for the extraordinary level of care and service Humber River delivers today.
In over five decades of volunteer service, she undertook many roles at the Hospital and in the Humber River Foundation, including Clerk, Convener, President and Chairman.
Norma took her last breath at Humber River in August; but she will always remain the first Life Governor of the Foundation and a heroine at the Hospital she held so close to her heart.
“Norma Stenhouse leaves an inspiring and incredible legacy on our hospital and in our community,” says Dr. Rueben Devlin, HRH President and CEO. “Humber River is honoured that so much of Norma’s life was shared with us; her amazing volunteer work; her dedication to the gift shop and her long history of fundraising with the Volunteer Association and Hospital Foundation are only a few examples of her remarkable contribution to Humber River,” he adds.
“Norma made a huge impact at Humber River,” says Carole Zorzi, former President and CEO of the HRH Foundation and friends with Norma for over 15 years. “She knew the importance of representing herself and the organization to the business community and within the social environment,” Zorzi adds. “Norma also saw the big picture; she understood the role volunteers needed to play within the hospital and in assisting the Foundation. I could always count on Norma’s leadership, commitment and support.”
Norma’s passion to help others was evident from the day she walked into Humber River – then Humber Memorial Hospital – in 1961. With a long family history of volunteering at the Hospital, Norma was determined to take on many projects and achieve ‘great things’ for her community hospital.
Her first job was in the gift shop where she was in charge of the magazines. She also restocked the cherry wagon and the gift shop with confectionery. Over the years, she became famous for making one-of-a-kind candy baskets, baby baskets and silk flower arrangements.
“When I would buy the flowers for her arrangements, she would always ask me to buy calla lilies; Norma loved calla lilies,” says Jean Rego, HRH volunteer and staff member who was friends with Norma for over 20 years. “Norma was a regal lady who went out of her way to help people; she was very approachable and always had a smile,” she adds. “I have such fond memories of our years together.”
In her inaugural position on the Volunteer Association Board, as Public Relations Convener, Norma produced the Association’s first newsletter; she also created signs and took charge of newspaper publicity. Norma progressed through the ranks quickly, becoming a Vice-President and serving as President of the Association Board from the early to mid 1980’s. In 1998, she was the first President of the Volunteer Association of the new Humber River Regional Hospital – a merger of the former Humber Memorial, Northwestern and York-Finch Hospitals in 1997.
There was no question that Norma took her volunteer role seriously.
“I can remember, every Christmas morning when we were kids, after we had opened our gifts, my mom would prepare the turkey, put it in the oven and then she would go to the hospital to open the gift shop,” recounts Jay Stenhouse, the youngest of Norma’s two sons and Vice President of Communications for the Toronto Blue Jays. “She always told us that not everyone could be home for Christmas and that if she could make somebody’s Christmas more special by opening the gift shop then she would be happy,” he adds. “Mom always put family first, but Humber River was part of that family. She valued her work at the Hospital and took pride in the relationships she formed and the accomplishments she achieved.”
“With her guidance, empathy and patience, Norma was influential in the successful merger of three hospitals,” says Zorzi – “She realized the importance of the women’s auxiliary coming together as a volunteer association and showed tremendous support for our Foundation and Hospital as a whole.”
“Norma’s level of commitment and dedication to Humber River was truly admirable,” says Pauline Kishimoto, current President of the Humber River Volunteer Association and Norma’s neighbour for almost 25 years. “With a quiet dignity and a commanding presence, she made things happen. She also strongly motivated and encouraged me to become a volunteer at Humber River. Norma laid the foundation for volunteerism and exemplified the true meaning of leadership.”
“Norma’s passing signifies the end of an era at our Hospital,” says Louisa Ceci, Manager of HRH Volunteer Services. “As a volunteer candy striper in the mid 1970’s, I remember meeting Norma in the gift shop. “Years later, I was proud to nominate Norma for an Ontario Volunteer Service Award and watched her accept the award in 2009. Norma has long been admired and respected for her determination and initiative.”
Those qualities led Norma to become an original Governor of the former Humber Memorial Hospital Foundation, a role she remained in after the merger. Up until her passing, Norma served as Chairman of the Humber River Foundation’s Donor Recognition and Stewardship Committees.
From 1961 until 2012, Norma Stenhouse was an integral part of Humber River’s history; helping to shape the Hospital’s present and future. We thank Norma for her outstanding contributions and for exemplifying the best in care, community service and citizenship.
The ‘Grand Lady’ of Humber River Hospital will live on in the hearts of many people whose lives she touched and the wonderful legacy she created.