Some of Alberta’s great builders focus on the bricks and mortar that give shape to a community. Others turn their attention to the sense of compassion and inclusion that give a community heart. In her career as a community builder, Evelyn Buckley has found a way to do both.
Evelyn was born on May 13, 1934 and raised on a farm east of Calgary. Her search for community began early in life. Although her family was not religious, Evelyn felt drawn to the sense of belonging and purpose that church represents. At the age of five, she began polling neighbours about their religious affiliations and asking to be invited to take part in their services. This was more than an indication of Evelyn’s natural inquisitiveness. It marked the beginning of a search for meaning and connection with others that would shape her life’s work.
Evelyn chose nursing as a career and graduated with a diploma from the Calgary General Hospital in 1955. The choice was a natural fit for her nurturing and compassionate nature. Less of a fit was the administrative nature of her surgical ward duties, which didn’t allow her the time she craved to talk with and comfort patients.
In 1957, Evelyn married Clarence Buckley and soon found her days full with the challenges that came with running the family ranch. They began their life together in a small log cabin with no running water and little insulation. Evelyn’s drive to learn helped her through the early years and she soon became a jack of all trades who could capably juggle the skills needed to work the ranch and raise a family that grew to include four children: Richard, Michael, Ken and Colleen. She also found the time to serve as an English as a Second Language instructor for the YWCA.
By the 1970’s, Evelyn’s busy ranch life included hosting international students who came to Alberta through Rotary International and other programs. This period also marked the beginning of her work to strengthen community health care supports and services. She returned to school and graduated with a Social Work Diploma from Mount Royal College and worked with autistic children at the Calgary Children’s Hospital. She also served as executive director of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
Evelyn began to focus on building compassionate and inclusive communities for long-term care and palliative care patients. She also worked on behalf of Albertans dealing with mental health issues and handicapped people needing accessible and affordable housing. As a member of the Carewest Board, she started to develop a model of a long-term care community that would offer residents both a feeling of home and a sense of purpose and belonging. Her vision was to create a place that “replaced nursing stations with kitchen tables.” Her passion became to turn institutions into caring and inclusive homes and communities.
Evelyn was able to make that vision a reality through her work with the Bethany Care Society. As a board member, she led the creation of innovative long-term care projects, including the Harvest Hills Centre which has been recognized as one of the best architecturally designed Alzheimer’s homes in North America. She also served as a tireless advocate of long-term care issues and a promoter of good health care governance. Evelyn’s work with Bethany Care eventually led to a unique partnership with the Chinese Christian Nursing Home Association. Thanks, in no small part, to Evelyn’s energy and dedication, Calgary is home to the Wing Kei Nursing Home, which offers culturally appropriate, home-style care to Chinese long-term care patients.
Over the years, Evelyn has played a hands-on role with many other organizations dedicated to fostering healthy communities and raising the standard of health care in Alberta. She has completed tenures as a member of the provincial government Mental Health Review Panel and the Alberta Government Health Disciplines Board and volunteered with a range of organizations including the Catholic Health Association of Alberta, the Alberta Long-Term Care Advisory Committee and the MD of Rockyview Planning Committee. She has also worked to preserve the history of the Alberta ranch country she and Clarence have been proud to call home.
Other projects have taken Evelyn’s focus to the international stage. She served on the board of Kenya Connection, a pioneering micro-credit program that helps women start businesses and move toward economic independence. As a volunteer with Hearts and Hands, she travels to Guatemala to combat lung disease caused by the open stoves that are used in the homes of some of the country’s poorest people.
Evelyn’s diverse interests and remarkable energy are also reflected in her long-standing volunteer work for the United Church of Canada. In 1995, these efforts were recognized with an Honourary Doctorate of Divinity from St. Andrews College, University of Saskatchewan. Her other awards and honours include an Integrity Award and Paul Harris Fellowship from the Rotary Club of Calgary.
In her work as a United Church lay preacher, she often tells congregations that “sometimes you have to trust and move forward without knowing the path ahead or what will happen.” Evelyn Buckley has travelled a unique path, answering a powerful call to serve others and her community. Along the way, remarkable things have happened because of her caring spirit, her great determination and her desire to build a better world.