Nurse, traveler, donor

Tracing the life of Gertrude (Trudi) Marie Langlois reveals just how remarkably the world has evolved in recent decades. Born during an era when career women were exceedingly rare, she became one of Canada’s top psychiatric nurses. And the rapid development of the international tourism industry enabled her to travel the globe for much of the last 40 years.

“My aunt Trudi likes to say that she’s had two careers: military nurse and world traveller,” says Michelle Bentley, one of 25 nieces and nephews.

Trudi was born in 1925 into a large family accustomed to loss: only 11 of her of 15 siblings survived childhood. The Langlois family ran a hotel along Quebec’s Gaspé coast. Her parents wanted all their children — including their daughters — to pursue an education, an unusual idea at the time. Trudi earned a nursing degree in Québec City, then returned home to work for a local doctor, who was also her boyfriend for a time. The couple, accompanied by one of Trudi’s sisters, travelled through Europe for much of 1953, igniting a passion that Trudi would pursue in earnest decades later.

Trudi’s career took off upon her return to Canada. She moved to Montreál for a nursing job in the psychiatric ward of Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital. Many of her patients were Veterans suffering from what is now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition poorly understood at the time and sometimes treated with electro-shock therapy. For her protection, a bodyguard usually accompanied Trudi on her rounds.

In 1962, Trudi joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, in part to acquire the skills and knowledge she needed to provide better care. She earned diplomas in advanced psychiatric care, learned about new and emerging treatments, such as anti-depressants, and served at bases in Canada and Europe. Trudi eventually rose to the rank of acting Major and served as a head psychiatric nurse at National Defence Medical Centre, one of three facilities amalgamated decades later to create Perley Health.

Trudi retired in 1980, claiming that work interfered too much with her many hobbies, such as belly dancing, calligraphy and competitive Scrabble. She also began to travel extensively — more than 65 countries in all — and documented her adventures in stories and scrapbooks.

“I’ve gotten to know my Aunt Trudi much better since we moved to Ottawa 25 years ago,” says Michelle Bentley. “She’s always been spry, energetic and sociable.”

Trudi volunteered as a greeter at the Ottawa Airport and escorted residents of the long-term care home near her apartment to mass on Sundays. And for many years, she donated regularly to Perley Health, where she rehabilitated from a fall she suffered in 2017. On the wise advice of her financial manager, Trudi donated some of her stock portfolio to Perley Health, as part of her ongoing estate planning.

“She has a deep and longstanding admiration for Veterans, for the Canadian Forces and for Perley Health,” says Michelle. “Sadly, her dementia has gotten much worse during the pandemic. Looking through her memoir and scrapbooks, I’m struck by the exceptional life she’s led and her determination to give back.”

By Peter McKinnon