Meet a Volunteer: Marianne
June 05, 2024

Marianne has been a Volunteer Medical Responder for over 30 years with St. John Ambulance and is now the Provincial Disaster Coordinator for the NS/PEI Council. She represented Canada at the summer Olympics in London, UK where she volunteered for four weeks as a medic. Marianne is also an instructor with SJA, teaching Basic and Advanced First Aid courses.

In 2022 she was awarded the Platinum Jubilee Medal, an international award, given for service of family, community, and country. We asked Marianne about her extensive experience volunteering with SJA and the countless initiatives that she has been a part of.


What initially made you want to join SJA as a volunteer?

In the fall of 1990, on my way home from the Halifax International Airport, I came across a car accident and discovered that two people I knew were in the one of the cars. Knowing little to nothing about first aid, I did what I could but felt helpless. One of my friends in the accident passed away two days later due to their injuries. I vowed then I would take a first aid course and NEVER find myself in that situation again!

What is your favourite thing about volunteering?

Without hesitation I would say that it’s meeting other like-minded people and developing lifetime relationships.For over 30 years, while I was working at Dalhousie University, I worked with students to help raise money for several different charities. Over a quarter of a million dollars! Volunteering is in my DNA.I also live by this Hindu proverb: True happiness consists in making others happy.

What do you think sets St. John Ambulance apart?

Our history for sure and knowing that I am part of an organization that has been around for over 900 years. And of course, being able to brag that somewhere in the world the sun is either rising or setting on an SJA volunteer!

Can you tell us about a few stand out moments/your favourite memories as a volunteer?

Tough question as there have been so many. I would have to say that the ones that changed my life and have allowed me to dedicate myself to this organization are: Swiss Air, September 11th bombings, and my three weeks spent volunteering at the 2012 Olympic Games in the UK.

You’ve organized several response teams for disasters. What was that like and how did those differ from your regular volunteer efforts?

The first disaster for me that sent me in the direction of “this is something I believe I can do and become better at it” was by far Swiss Air in 1998.While there were no survivors, it started as both SJA Nova Scotia and I on a path of being leaders in assisting those in need on a national and international level. As a direct result of being involved in the unlikely recovery, a committee was created called “CREST” (Central Region Emergency Support Team). This committee is made up of not only first responders like EHS, police, and firefighters but also very important second responders like Salvation Army, Red Cross, and Pastoral Care services, and is still a working committee today!

Other disasters like September 11 brought different challenges and opportunities because we were dealing with plane loads of displaced people. While Newfoundland got a movie, and rightly so, Halifax had way more people and 10 locations of displaced persons. I continue to be proud of all the work we did here.

What has been your proudest moment when providing disaster relief?

By far that would have to be Hurricane Juan because of the impact on Halifax and me personally. I was first called out to assist with evacuation of a 33-story apartment at Dalhousie University, helping a friend who managed the building, and then lost a good friend John Rossiter (a paramedic) who died during it. For me it was finding the strength to help others, set up shelters, no power for almost 10 days, and then days later assisting with John’s wake here in Halifax. People needed support and I felt truly proud to be in my SJA Uniform.

What would you say is the most challenging part about helping with emergency disaster relief?

I believe it is the call-out! I say this because it can be so very difficult to reach people and ask them to come help. Also, and quite frankly, if you have never lived through a disaster, it can be very hard to understand just how difficult it is when you lose everything. Having volunteers come out and help when ‘boots on the ground’ are needed, just isn’t as ‘sexy’ as attending a concert.

In 2022, you were awarded Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Medal. What an amazing accomplishment. Tell us about that experience.

Very interesting question! I have to say that after volunteering for so many years, I honestly just jump in and do stuff. I don’t think about it. I just get it done because I’ve seen so many times how SJA makes a difference for people. No thanks are required, I just see how much happier they become later. Receiving the medal was truly an amazing experience because it came out of nowhere. Receiving a letter and the award at SJA Dartmouth Office with my peers was amazing!

As a side note: I have a very small Royal Family story. When I was very young and had been in the hospital for quite some time, and because the Queen mother was visiting at the same time, I was feeling better and was asked out of the blue to represent the other sick children. I presented a bouquet of flowers to the Queen Mother, and we chatted for almost 2 minutes. Years later when the Queen Mother came back to Halifax, I was asked to Province House for a ‘high tea’ with her and around 50 other people. So, I guess you can say that I have been a monarchist all my life!

What would you say to someone who is thinking about joining as a volunteer?

I would sign up right away. Especially if you are interested in any kind of medical type jobs. I also believe with all my heart that the friendship piece is huge!

You are also a first aid instructor. Why do you think it’s so important for people to be trained in first aid?

That’s an easy one! Every single person who gets their driver's license should be required to take a one day first aid course. There are so many traffic accidents these days that even some basic knowledge of what to do (and not do) is so very important. It is a requirement in other countries and certainly should be one here. I’ve often gone to visit Girl Guides and taught them basic skills. They love learning it and turn around and use it on friends and family. They are like little sponges.

Feeling inspired by Marianne’s outstanding contributions as a volunteer? Volunteering with SJA is flexible and anyone can do it. Learn more and sign-up here.