Eulalee Robinson was born as one of eight siblings In Jamaica. After graduating high school, she took a college-level typing/shorthand course, but it didn’t take her long to realize that this wasn’t how she wanted to make a living.
“In Jamaica, I used to pierce people’s ears. A lot of people would be uncomfortable doing this or be afraid of blood, but I wasn’t. Everyone always told me I’d make a great nurse, so that’s what I decided to pursue.”
At the age of 18, Eulalee moved to England where she attended Maidenhead Hospital, a small training hospital in the country. She was the first of her class to arrive, which was both lonely and scary.
After spending the first night alone, she was joined by a lady from India. Over the next few days, the rest of her nurses-in-training arrived.
“Everyone who arrived at Maidenhead Hospital was scared, lonely and wanted to go home. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stay, but one day a friend of mine from Ireland said to me, “Eulalee, we are going to make it through this. It’s going to be hard, but we are going to make it.”…and she was right, we made it.”
Going into this experience, Eulalee thought nursing was just caring for people and giving needles, but she quickly learned that it was so much more. This was no ordinary school; there were no classes or tests. Each nurse-in-training was mentored and thrown right into the fire, caring for real people in real situations as they learned.
One day, while with her mentor, Eulalee witnessed her first-ever death when one of the patients passed away. As they were cleaning the body, the dead patient turned towards Eulalee and let out a loud noise, much to her surprise.
“I ran right out of the room and into my dorm. I’ll never forget that. I’m thankful for my mentor, Margaret Sheldon, who helped me get through that. She had a similar path to mine, leaving her family to start a new life. I used her as motivation to succeed, and I did. I weathered the storm and I passed my four-year course.”
After graduation, Eulalee went to London, England and became a State Enrol Nurse (which is similar to an RPN in Canada) at Winchmore Hill. After four years, Eulalee, now a single mother, brought her kids back to Jamaica because she felt very alone.
In 1979, Eulalee made the tough decision to leave her kids with her mother and move to Canada. To be a nurse in Canada, she had to write a test, which she wrote, and unfortunately failed.
Unable to be a nurse in her new country, Eulalee got a job as a grad at Centenary Hospital in Scarborough. While there, she wrote the nursing test again, and once again, she wasn’t able to pass.
After that, she moved to Brooklyn, New York and worked in a retirement home for eight months as a Licensed Practical Nurse (similar to RPN).
Eulalee moved back to Canada following that experience and was able to move her kids here. She got a job at a nursing home, once again as a grad. After being transferred to Kennedy Lodge and spending eight years there, Eulalee was ready for a change.
“I went back to school and graduated from a four-year Data Entry program. This led me to get a job at the Royal Trust Company.”
But her time there would be short, as she was laid off following a merger after just two years. Once again, Eulalee was forced to start over.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I tried my nursing test again. Unfortunately, for a third time, I failed. But at this point, I was committed to working in healthcare and helping people, so I decided to back to school.”
Eulalee took a healthcare aide course at Centennial College, which she graduated from. It didn’t take her long to get hired as a personal support worker in Aurora. After three years at that job, her Director of Care accepted a transfer to Winbourne Park Long-Term Care Home in Ajax and encouraged Eulalee to come with her. She did, and 16 years of SEIU Healthcare activism later, that’s where she remains.
After serving on the union’s executive board for three terms, she now represents SEIU Healthcare as a trustee on the Nursing Homes and Related Industries Pension Plan (NHRIPP) board. Eulalee has also been extremely active when it comes to canvassing. She supported the Barack Obama campaign with her union and this past October, she hosted a Leadership Academy Community Outreach Day at her own house.
As a former member of SEIU Healthcare’s Black History Committee, the celebration of this month is something near and dear to Eulalee’s heart.
“Being a black woman in Canada hasn’t been an easy thing, especially when I emigrated here. Over the years, I have been able to appreciate who I am. SEIU Healthcare has given me some great opportunities to mentor members and educate others about Black history. I’m very thankful to be part of the SEIU Healthcare family.”