Giving Back To the Program That Shaped Their Lives

Rehab'70 Alumni
Linda Shrout, Rehab'70, Cathy Ambler, Rehab'70 & Linda Watson, Rehab'70
“We weren’t struggling students anymore,” says Watson, “most of us had successful careers and we had reason to reflect.”

They took classes in basements, had a hotel for a residence, and spent a lot of their time trying to explain to people what Rehabilitation Therapy was.

There weren’t many of them back in 1967 – fewer than thirty, all of them young women – the first-ever intake into Queen’s School of Rehabilitation Therapy. Nearly fifty years later, they remain close friends and colleagues and are committed to giving back to their school and their university, both as individuals and as a group.

Sit down to talk with three of them – Cathy Ambler, Linda Watson and Linda Shrout -- and the bond among them, and their gratitude to the school, quickly becomes obvious. “The program shaped my life,” says Ambler (to the others’ agreement), “it opened up doors for me.”

Being part of a new program had its challenges. “The rehab program was late getting established,” says Watson. “We weren’t accepted until the middle of the summer when they knew it was going to go.” (In fact, Linda Shrout didn’t even apply until August.) Classroom space was wherever the school could find it – including the basement of Brockington House, then a men’s residence. “We were the height of the baby boomers going to university and there was a real crunch for space,” remembers Watson. “I was one of a number of rehab therapy students living in the LaSalle Hotel [now the La Salle Mews on Princess Street].”

“We had the whole fourth floor and our own don. In those days in residence on campus, you had only one phone per floor. We had double hotel rooms, each room had its own phone, its own television, and its own bathroom – luxury!”

“I think we knew we were unique,” says Watson. “No one else had heard of our program.”

“And try explaining what occupational therapy is,” says Shrout.

“So we kind of had to stick together,” says Watson.

Those bonds endured, even after they graduated in 1970 from what was then a three-year program. Every five years since their graduation, the group has held a reunion, which is a relatively simple affair to arrange given their small numbers. “I think that as a group of women,” says Ambler, “there was a common thread in our personalities. We had a lot of common sense, we were very hands-on people – get the job done – and I think that thread has kept us interconnected.”

At their 35th-reunion in 2005, the group decided to give back to Queen’s and their school as a group. “We weren’t struggling students anymore,” says Watson, “most of us had successful careers and we had reason to reflect.” They decided to create The Rehabilitation Therapy Class of 1970 Bursary. “We talked a lot about criteria,” says Watson. “We wanted to support students who were in financial need, the kids who have to struggle.” “During our 35th-anniversary reunion,” says Shrout, “we had a meeting in the Louise D. Acton building with a member of the Gift Planning Team and she told us what we needed to do.”

“We had to have a certain amount of money to establish the fund,” adds Ambler. (In 2005, the amount was $10,000; today it’s $50,000.) “But the money didn’t have to be upfront, we could pledge it over five years.” Today the fund totals more than $29,000 and, since its establishment, the bursary has given out more than $6,000 to 10 students in the second year of the occupational and physical therapy programs on the basis of financial need.  In addition to their support for the bursary, all three women have plans to remember Queen’s – either through an amount designated in their will (Ambler and Shrout) or by gifting an insurance policy to Queen’s and designating the  school as the ultimate beneficiary (Watson).

There was no 45th-reunion celebration for the class of 1970 this year. Not because the graduates aren’t still keen, but because they decided it would be better to roll their reunion into the school’s own celebrations in 2017 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. When it comes to today’s graduates from Rehabilitation Therapy, Shrout speaks for her own classmates when she says, “I would like them to be really proud of themselves and the profession.” When it comes to giving back, she says, “You’ve got debt when you graduate, but I think I’d tell them to start small and plan big. Put a toonie in a pot and at the end of the year, you could have 100 dollars. Over ten years that can add up to a thousand – multiply that by the size of a class and it makes a difference.”

And making a difference – to Queen’s and the wider community – has been important to the first alumni of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. Today, as the women look forward to joining the School’s 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2017, their friendship, passion and commitment to each other, their professions and their school will inspire others to give back  to Queen’s.