Jean Wilson, who turns 90 next Sunday, enjoys work at the Thompson Hospital information desk
CANANDAIGUA — Although Jean Wilson never really sees the woman outside the workplace, she remembers her very well.
No, Wilson is not referring to the queen of England — they had a passing acquaintance — but that’s a story for a wee bit later.
This woman’s husband was ill and Wilson, who works the information desk at Thompson Hospital, always made a point to greet her when she came in, not even waiting for her to come to her desk. It got to the point when Wilson would send her Christmas cards.
When the woman, whose husband has since died, herself came to the hospital, Wilson and the woman hugged, like long lost friends.
“You meet so many people, you get to know them,” Wilson said. “They’re not just another person walking through the door.”
And no one considers Wilson just another person.
Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Wilson, who turns 90 next Sunday, sometimes works the desk on Tuesdays, sometimes the weekends. It varies, except when it comes to Wednesdays.
That’s her day.
“You can always find me at the desk on a Wednesday, unless I’m pushing up daisies somewhere,” Wilson said.
Wilson started out volunteering at the hospital in 2000, because of the care the hospital staff took with her late husband, Samuel. She was hired in September 2004 to work at the information desk in the main lobby.
Wilson thinks the world of those she works with, and they speak the same of her.
Anne Johnston, corporate writer and marketing coordinator at Thompson Health’s Office of Communications, spoke with a few co-workers who shared their feelings for Wilson.
Wilson is an inspiration, according to longtime friend and Thompson volunteer Pat Heckman, who remarked about how Wilson always seems to be aware of what is going on in the lobby and outside the main entrance.
Kind of a sixth sense for noticing someone who is in need.
“Every day I go to work beside her, I learn something,” Heckman said.
Wilson’s boss, Jim Pelton, said she is a role model, which Brandy Collett, of the Thompson Foundation, agrees.
“I want to live to be 90 and be just like her,” Collett said.
Why? Wilson packs a lot into her day and her lifetime.
Wilson was a regimental drum major who led a fife and drum corps in the Canal Town Days parade in Palmyra — at the age of 84. Her friends and coworkers praise her baking, the floral arrangements she designs and places in the lobby, her knitting and her gardening skills.
Wilson also is known for her wit, and she has a few doozies.
About her granddaughter marrying a man from Ireland: “Us Irish stick together.” On why she had to help her husband at his bakeries (he had two in Belfast): “My husband was a fabulous baker, but he couldn’t make crust.” On her health: “Not bad for an old lady.” She has no plans to, but if she was to march in a parade: “I still can strut out pretty good.”
And about the queen.
The Wilsons, who were living in Henrietta at the time, had started a British Commonwealth Club. A British Week event was celebrated at the old Sibley Tower — remember that? — in which two representatives of the crown were invited and came.
Wilson’s husband Samuel in 1977 was awarded the MBE — meaning, a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (in other words, a big deal) — by Queen Elizabeth II.
So there were the Wilsons, at Buckingham Palace, all dressed up in regalia, music playing — quite the experience, she said.
“I thought she’d have invited us for tea, but she didn’t,” Wilson cracked. “She put the medal on him. ‘Welcome home,’ she said. She knew he’d been over here.”
Quick with a quip, she is, but life wasn’t all fun for Wilson growing up in Northern Ireland. Her mother died in 1934, followed by her father two years later. She and her three siblings were split up.
She remembers having half a slice of bread with jam for lunch. The older kids munched on full slices.
“We were all split up, the four of us,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t until I was 16 that we all got back together again. Some people think they’ve had a tough life or a hard life. They don’t know what it’s like.”
There were other hardships. She returns home every other year to mark the birthday of her late daughter.
“If my daughter hadn’t died, we may have gone back and lived our day in Ireland,” Wilson said. “They do take good care of you over there.”
And she takes good care of the people over here. All in all, a good life, she said.
“Good company to work for, good boss, good people and my beautiful family,” Wilson said. “What more do you want?”
Have you ever driven past a local oddity or seen or heard of something that made you stop and wonder, "What's up with that?" We have, too — and now we're hoping to provide some answers to these long-lingering questions with this column, which appears Sundays. If you have questions you need answered, either email or call Local Editor Mike Murphy at email@example.com or 585-337-4229.