A former Stettler resident has landed one of the nation’s most prestigious honours.
Judy Birdsell, who now calls Calgary home, has been selected to the Order of Canada for her, “Extensive contributions to improving health care and the quality of life for patients in Alberta and across Canada.”
It came as a complete surprise, and she is thrilled with the designation.
“I was flabbergasted. I remember getting the call in October, and I don’t even know why I answered the phone because I don’t often answer if I don’t recognize the number,” she added with a laugh. “It was unbelievable.
“I’ve known people who have gotten it, and I’ve always seen it as a huge honour. That’s how I feel,” she added.
“My husband knew about it, and it’s been in the works for about three years.”
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation, notes the web site.
“Much of my volunteer work has also been, although not exclusively, at the national level,” she said. “I was involved many years ago with the Canadian Cancer Society in the province, and nationally. I was the national president in the late 90’s.”
Part of that role reached to her hometown as well.
“Some of the Stettler folks also still know me through that connection, because they were involved with the Cancer Society locally,” she said, adding that she has served on the board of the National Cancer Institute as well.
She also chaired the board of the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative.
These are just a few examples of how Birdsell has served the community – giving back so generously of her time and sharing her healthcare experience and expertise.
“Most of my work has been in health one way or another,” she said. “As a professional, for the last 20 years I consulted in health research policy – so that was my paid job. In the province, I was also on the board of an affordable housing foundation here in Calgary. We looked after about 2,500 to 3,000 seniors in 20 facilities,” she added.
“The nice thing about volunteering and what keeps me going all the time are the wonderful folks that you work with,” she pointed out.
“With people who are at volunteer tables, 99 per cent of the time it’s because they have a passion and they care deeply. And they come from all different backgrounds. I find that really interesting and challenging.
“I remember the very first committee I chaired for the Cancer Society in Calgary which was in public education,” she explained.
Other folks on that committee included a man who had been named the strongest man in Canada, a highly-regarded scientist at the Cross Cancer Institute, and a fellow who owned a pest control business whose wife had died of cancer. Very different backgrounds indeed but a common focus – and that’s also what Birdsell finds so inspirational.
“I quickly came to appreciate how they brought such hugely different perspectives to the conversation,” she said. “People are wonderful – and there are all of these great connections to be made as well.”
Other opportunities to serve came about via joining the board of the Health Quality Council of Alberta and her active involvement as a member of Patients for Patient Safety Canada.
She is also one of the founders and now chair of the Board of IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health, a society created by a group of citizens who are working to support Albertans to take a more active role in shaping the future of healthcare in the province.
“We’ve only been a formal society for two years but now things are really picking up on that front,” she said.
Birdsell was born in Stettler and grew up on her grandfather’s homestead southwest of town.
She attended Waverly School until Grade nine and Wm. E. Hay Composite High School for Grades 10-12.
Her roots are still very much in Stettler and are reinforced by visiting her sister who still lives in the area, and by her re-connections with high school friends since retiring (and entering the quilting world).
She and her husband Terry Brooker have two grown children.
Looking back, Birdsell’s career began with nursing positions in aboriginal settings in Alberta and Northwest Territories.
She also earned a Master’s degree in Health Care Research (1987) which led to several years working in cancer epidemiology and prevention.
An interest in inter-organizational relationships led to a PhD in Organizational Analysis (1997) in which her research included a key focus on the role of patients and family in policy-making in breast cancer research.
In the meantime, it’s been quite the year for Birdsell in terms of recognition, as she was was also selected as the 2020 recipient of the Clearview Award of Merit, which was presented this past June by Clearview Public Schools.
“I think it’s pretty neat that the Stettler (award) came first,” she said. “It was fabulous.”
Unfortunately, the dinner where she was to receive the award was cancelled due to the pandemic but several friends from town organized a barbecue. “They all got together and made me a quilt which was beautiful,” she said, adding that the award was later mailed. “It’s a lovely glass sculpture.
“It was all really, really special.”