Patsy George is the social worker we all wish we could be. She has spent more than four decades pursuing social and economic justice in Canada and globally. She worked for the provincial government in British Columbia for most of that time. That didn't seem to douse her passion or her effectiveness. She rose as high as she wished within the public service, at one time running the social service office in Canada's poorest postal code – the downtown east side of Vancouver.
She always found what the great Brazilian adult educator, Paulo Freire, described as free spaces the opportunities that exist within every system to do much more than is expected.
She taught me a simple but important lesson. Do your job better than anyone else. Then use that base of credibility to help people organize to help themselves. Share your inside knowledge and resources with them.
She practised what she preached. The mid-eighties was a tumultuous time in British Columbia. We were on the verge of a general strike and 'shutting the province down'. Government expected loyalty and many employees were afraid to speak out. Not Patsy. In characteristic fashion she took a long term leave of absence and become one of the public voices of protest in the coalition known as Operation Solidarity.
She was a favourite guest lecturer at my community college and university classes. "Do your job well, but don't be satisfied," she advised. "The conditions that led to your employment cause too much needless pain and suffering. They must be eliminated. A happy social worker has no analysis," she'd conclude.
She has earned a host of awards including the Order of Canada, the Order of BC, and the Queen's Jubilee Medal. There should be one for replacing caution with free spaces. They reveal the cracks that light sneaks through. Ask Patsy.
I was reminded of Patsy's impact on my life while reading a recent Globe and Mail column on 'Giving Back' which profiled her substantial donation to Canadian Crossroads International. Then I discovered this talk given to the International Federation of University Women in honour of International Women's Day. She's still at it, devoting most of her time these days to addressing global poverty, particularly for moms and their kids.
This is the eighth in a series on poverty. Click Poverty to access the others.