February 1st, 2016
On Monday, February 1, the Waterloo Record celebrated the life and legacy of St. Mary’s Medical Librarian Elaine Baldwin, who passed away in November of 2015. St. Mary’s will name the library in Elaine’s honour to recognize her amazing contributions.
‘Everything she did, she did it right to the edge’
By Valerie Hill
Elaine Baldwin never did anything in half measures.
When she took up gardening, Elaine planted every inch of her Kitchener yard. Then she became a master gardener and completed a horticultural diploma from the University of Guelph, graduating with distinction. Elaine took up belly dancing and decided her skills had to be at performance level.
“She was an A-type personality,” said her longtime friend, Brenda Vegso. “She had to take it to the maximum. Everything she did, she did it right to the edge.”
As a 30-year veteran medical librarian at St. Mary’s General Hospital, Elaine was so good at her job she received the Reverend Rip Kirby Award of Excellence and the Mission Legacy Award.
Staff in the facility went a step further, and the library will be renamed in her honour.
“I was speechless,” said her husband, Doug Baldwin.
A letter from hospital president Don Shilton explained.
“Elaine poured her heart and soul into our library and made it a standout service at St. Mary’s,” he wrote. “She embraced new technology with her trademark enthusiasm and was always keen to assist anyone with a research project.”
Her boss, Terry Boshart, said Elaine would often look at him with hands on hips and announce with great humour, “I’m not your typical librarian.” Terry couldn’t agree more.
Brenda said her friend was “someone who took initiative.” A former medical librarian herself, Brenda said that when other hospitals cut library budgets, St. Mary’s was providing adequate funding largely because of Elaine and the importance of her work. Medical staff looking for information came to Elaine. But she took her job a step further.
Elaine made sure the library subscribed to various medical websites and she read through all the research materials to find the latest information. When she found something new, Elaine would send it directly to a physician she thought would be interested.
“She was so intuitive,” said Terry. “This was definitely linked to patient care.”
What was even more remarkable was that Elaine did not have any medical training. She held a master’s degree in library science and had worked in the public library system before coming to the hospital. She took it upon herself to learn this job, inside out.
“She was very proud of her profession,” said Brenda. “It was part sleuthing and part detective work.”
Elaine was born in Kitchener, the youngest of the three girls. She graduated from Wilfrid Laurier and Western universities where she met Doug. The couple married in 1976 and had two children, Blair and Kristin. They lived in London for awhile, where Elaine worked in a library. Then, when Doug, an accountant, was transferred they moved to Kitchener in 1984.
Elaine worked for the Waterloo public library for a few months before starting at St. Mary’s in November 1985. Aside from her regular job, Elaine formed a book club at the hospital and created an archive of historical artifacts
Terry said that while Elaine was the only librarian, “she had a group of volunteers that thought the sun rose and shone on her.”
Every year, as a thank you, Elaine would take her group to plays in Stratford and a couple times a year she held high tea in the library, using her fancy china. This was in keeping with her flamboyant nature, her love of fancy hats, pomp and circumstance, and all things Royal Family.
When the weather was dull, Elaine would hold a big party to cheer up her friends.
“It was more the idea of having people in the house,” said Doug, remembering how happy Elaine was when hosting.
She had many interests, said her husband. The couple loved canoeing and camping trips in Algonquin every September and a few months before she died, they went dog sledding in the north end of the park.
Even after her cancer diagnosis, Elaine lived two years, longer than the doctors expected.
Doug credited his strong-willed wife with hanging on so she could attend the wedding of their son, Blair Baldwin. Wedding photos show a joyful and radiant woman who eight weeks later would succumb to the disease.
Blair talked about how his mother, a lover of history, collected statues of knights, placed them around the living room and each day looked to them for the motivation to stay strong. He spoke of how she pushed her kids “to just go for it” if they had a goal.
As her disease took hold, Elaine continued to work as long as she could, determined to suck every last bit of enjoyment from her passions, especially belly dancing.
Her boss said that every day Elaine came to work, she would look at him and say, “I’m still dancing, Terry, I’m still dancing.”