Life is a series of steps: first the baby steps, and then each phase of our lives grows from those first steps, those foundational steps.

In the early stages of Maureen Shaw’s life, she would hear the screeching sirens from the local forestry mill. Everyone would wait with quiet breath for word on who was injured or who had died. Those early steps in her younger life, led Maureen to be a champion for occupational health and safety.

Three women gathered and smiling for the camera

Three of the Threads of Life founding members, Maureen Shaw, Shirley Hickman and Sharon Freeman, gathered for the organization’s 10th anniversary in 2013

Her career offered opportunities to lead change in Alberta, where she was appointed to the Tripartite Occupational Health and Safety Council of Alberta. Later Maureen was appointed by the federal government to chair the Council of Governors of the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, before her next step in becoming the CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA) in Toronto.

It was while Maureen was in this leadership position that I first met her. In the late 1990s organizations across Canada became focused on a common workplace concern: young workers were being injured or dying as a result of finding their first job. What could be done to eliminate these injuries and deaths? Ministries of Labour and Ministries of Education across Canada were working together. In Ontario, Maureen chaired the Youth Stakeholder committee and as a family member, I was invited to attend. After our son Tim, died in 1996, our family had made a commitment to add our voice to anything that would help prevent further deaths, and suffering to families like ours.

The world of occupational health and safety was very new to me. The concept of safety for my family was not new – our family had those safety conversations regularly. All I knew was one step at a time. On the Youth Stakeholder committee my views were welcomed and Maureen became my mentor. Over the next few years, there were a number of initiatives to decrease injuries in particular to young workers. Our family was pleased to see that organizations seemed to be working together. Occupational health and safety lessons came into high school and college curriculums. Over the next decade, it seemed deaths of young workers were decreasing, although we all know that one is too many – be that young or older.

One day I listened as Maureen was presenting a session and she shared the day she got a call – a call that no one wants to receive. There had been an explosion. Maureen’s son Marc was being air lifted from the oil field and on his way to the hospital. The agony of waiting for word of how he was; the weeks of waiting to see if his legs would heal, only to hear that his right leg would have to be amputated. Imagine: she had dedicated her working career to promote occupational health and safety and now she was living the minute-by-minute, day-to-day reality of a workplace tragedy. What would the future for Marc look like? There was the whirl of medical decisions, treatments, re-hab and investigations. Marc recovered physically, retrained as an electronic technician and rehabilitated to become a member of Canada’s Paralympic Sailing team. Maureen was pleased with his healing and proud of his accomplishments, but as she told the audience at that session, her family was forever marked by this tragedy.

I was invited to take leadership of a new organization, Threads of Life. While I was very familiar with charities and working with volunteers, I hesitated because I did not have a business background. Maureen said, “you have all you need – everything else will be provided”. Those words have stayed with me and are one of my guiding principles. The past 20 years, Threads of Life has grown – one baby step at a time. Maureen has always been journeying with this organization. She travelled across the country as our spokesperson to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

About ten years ago, Maureen retired and moved to Victoria, Vancouver Island, near where her family are and her historical roots. She has a wide range of culture interests also – theater, music, gardening, entertaining. Her steps in the years of retirement have kept her very busy. There is a saying, if you need something done, ask a busy person. Maureen is that busy person. She shows her commitment to her new community by giving back. Being a member of the Victoria Police Board is an opportunity to provide leadership focus on mental health at the local level and the broader community of policing and first responders. She is regularly invited to present sessions on mental health in Canada and around the world at conferences and events. Occupational health and safety has never taken a step back in her priorities.

With her personal motivations – from childhood memories to her family’s experience, through a life-time career promoting workplace health and safety – it seems natural that as she considers her legacy, Maureen has decided to leave a portion of her inheritance in her will to Threads of Life. Through this gift, she continues to provide leadership and to ensure the future of the organization that means so much to her. Threads of Life is very thankful to Maureen for her nurturing and mentoring through the past 20 years, and we hope to hear more of those encouraging thoughts from her over many more decades.

If you are considering your own legacy and would like to support families of workplace tragedy through your will, please contact Scott McKay at [email protected] or 888-567-9490.

Shirley Hickman
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