When Audrey Wilson commits to something, she sticks with it. Which is why last month, she received the Order of the Red Cross for her 54 years of volunteer service with the non-profit organization.
It is also perhaps the reason why Wilson has volunteered, nearly her whole life, for St. Clement’s as a Sunday school teacher. In fact, the 87-year-old woman was born just across from St. Clement’s — a stately, but warm Anglican church nestled a few blocks away from the busy Yonge and Eglinton intersection.
Growing up, Wilson says the neighbourhood was different. Streetcars, not subways, ran up and down Yonge Street. When she attended Northern Secondary School in the 1930s, it went by a different name — Northern Vocational.
It was in her typing class there that she met a friend who would later become the love of her life — her future husband James. However, larger forces were playing out. James joined up with the Canadian Forces in 1943 to serve in the Second World War. Meanwhile, Wilson communicated with him by writing letters.
“I just looked forward to receiving letters from him,” she says, noting she was worried when James was wounded in Holland.
On home ground, Wilson was busy starting what would become a 50-year career with MacLaren McCann advertising — just called MacLaren in those days. Today, Wilson helps arrange a monthly alumni luncheon for the company, where she catches up with former co-workers.
As for volunteering with Red Cross — it was six years after Wilson married, that she would make the lifelong commitment.
The year was 1956 and Wilson had seen an ad in the paper — Red Cross was looking for drivers. While she couldn’t drive, she answered the ad anyway.
She would volunteer evenings, making sure vehicles were properly equipped and working in the blood clinic. She also volunteered for the Hospital for Sick Children and spent time working with veterans at Sunnybrook.
In 1971, James joined her and became a volunteer for Red Cross. It was a tradition for the two to spend Christmas helping others. “We used to work together on Christmas morning, transporting veterans to their home,” she says.
In 1979, Wilson received a call from Red Cross — a train had been derailed in Mississauga. “It was on a Sunday evening, I was serving dinner to company. The phone rang, and they said, ‘Put on your uniform, we’re picking you up in half an hour,’” she says.
For her dedication and service, MacLaren McCann gave her the following week off from work.
While she has retired from her job, Wilson still volunteers for Sunnybrook and St. Clement’s.
She also continues to volunteer for Red Cross. When she heard about the award, she says she was surprised.
“Definitely I was shocked,” says Wilson. “I feel very honoured to think that they think I would qualify.”