N.L. nursing trailblazer dead at 89

Janet Steer Story was the former director of nursing at General Hospital in St. John’s

Published on December 9, 2013
Janet Steer Story, a former director of nursing at the General Hospital in St. John’s who was instrumental in maintaining an archive detailing the profession’s history in Newfoundland and Labrador, has died at the age of 89. <br />— Submitted photo

A prominent figure in the history of nursing in Newfoundland and Labrador has died at the age of 89.

Janet Steer Story was a supervisor and instructor at the General Hospital in St. John’s before she became its director of nursing in 1963, a position she held until her retirement in 1983. She was also one of the founders of the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador (ARNNL) and served two terms as its president. Story died Dec. 3 in St. John’s.

Colleagues of Story held her in high esteem, as evidenced by those who spoke to The Telegram.

“I’ve never been able to call her anything but Ms. Story,” laughed Sharon Smith when asked to offer her recollections of Story.

Story was the director of nursing at the General Hospital when Smith started working there as a nurse in 1980. Smith is a past-president of ARNNL and president of the board of directors for the ARNNL Education and Research Trust.


Well respected

“We had total respect for her. She knew all of us. She would make rounds on the nursing unit on Christmas morning to wish us all a Merry Christmas, I guess to show her appreciation for us working on the holidays.”

Giving a presentation several years ago to the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, Smith said she was more nervous about the fact Story was watching her speak than anything else.

“I was more worried about what she thought of what I had to say than what (commission leader and former Saskatchewan premier) Roy Romanow had to say,” said Smith. “She just commanded that respect.”

Jeanette Walsh first encountered Story close to 50 years ago as a nursing student at the General Hospital and later worked with her on the Lillian Stevenson Nursing Archives and Museum, an endeavour Story initiated. Walsh said Story preserved a great deal of the province’s health history, with many items she collected having since been donated to The Rooms Provincial Archives.

“She was very committed to the profession,” said Walsh. “She strongly supported education in nursing.”

Outside of her work at the General Hospital, Story was involved with a group that helped establish Memorial University’s nursing program in 1965. MUN awarded Story an honorary doctorate of laws in 2004.



“She did have that vision for where the profession should be going,” said Walsh.

Linda White, a former nurse at the Grace Hospital who now works in the archives and special collections division of MUN’s QEII Library, was working on a master’s thesis on the history of the General Hospital’s school of nursing when she first got in touch with Story.

“I used to say to her, ‘It takes a Grace nurse to write the history of the General,’” laughed White. “She had a wonderful archives there.”

White eventually became Story’s friend and collaborated with her on other projects related to the history of nursing in Newfoundland and Labrador. She said Story was a sharp dresser and a generous person when hosting guests.

Story continued to follow the careers of those she worked with over the years. When Smith was director of the cancer care program for Eastern Health several years ago, an issue was brought to her attention through a media inquiry about a person who received information in the mail that should have been sent to a different patient.

“I said to the reporter, ‘We will try to follow up, and it’s very difficult if I don’t know who the person is to be able to do any followup,’” said Smith.

After the story went public, Smith was contacted by her former boss.

“A couple of days later, I got the article from the paper with a note from Ms. Story saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re not going to do anything about this’ ... She always had that watchful eye over what was happening, even after she retired.”

Story was the sister of the late George Morley Story, an English professor at MUN who also published the “Dictionary of Newfoundland English.”


* This article has been corrected.