THE TORONTO STAR Monday, August 6, 2001
"It's hard for me to talk about it. It's over. I just want to live in peace!"
Rejection still troubles nurse
By Roberta Avery
OWEN SOUND. Though more than half a century has passed, Marisse Louisy is still haunted by being rejected by an Owen Sound nursing school because of the colour of her skin.
"It's very hard for me to talk about it," said Louisy, 75, fighting back tears and visibly shaking at the memory during a visit here yesterday for a family gathering.
The shy, retiring woman seems an unlikely symbol for the civil rights movement in Canada. But that was the role she was propelled into in 1947, when the Owen Sound General and Marine Hospital refused to enroll her in it's nursing program solely because she's black.
According to newspaper reports at the time, the hospital rejected her application because it feared that patients would be traumatized by a black nurse at their bedside.
If it hadn't been for her minister at the time, Rev. Allan Ferry, Louisy, who now lives on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, would have let her dream of being a nurse die.
Outraged that a bright girl who was an honour student at her Owen Sound high school was the victim of open and unchallenged discrimination, Ferry spoke out and Louisy's case became a rallying cry for racial equality.
Then Owen Sound mayor Eddie Sargent carried an appeal on Louisy's behalf to the provincial health ministry's management flooded in from across Canada. But it wasn't until Rev. J. O'Reilly, a pastor of a Guelph church, talked the mother superior at Guelph's St. Joseph's Hospital into considering her case that Louisy was offered a place at a nursing school.
Louisy—whose maiden name is Scott—was considered one of the most willing and able student nurses in the history of St. Joseph's and graduated as an RN in 1950. Louisy took up a post as head of the nutrition department of the island's health ministry.
Though her case made headlines across Canada, Louisy always found the cruel rejection hard to talk about and even kept it from her family. "She never told us what she went through," said Louisy's daughter, Debra Charles, who accompanied her mother to Owen Sound from St. Lucia.
Louisy had hoped her visit would be a joyous family reunion, but her brother Doug Scott died just days before her arrival and instead she found herself at his funeral.
"It's a real honour to have Marisse back in Owen Sound," said local historian Paula Niall. "She is the woman who, despite the prejudices of the day, paved the way for other young black women to become nurses."