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Although she doesn't command quite the same worldwide star power as Pele, Madonna or Cher, Flo Tracy's iconic status on the McGill campus is evident in her one-name celebrity. Flo: Everybody knows, or knows of, Flo.
Of course, anyone who has had the good fortune of meeting the director of residences quickly realizes that celebrity is the furthest thing from her mind. Tracy, it seems, is here to serve. But the more she serves, the more the spotlight seeks her out.
In November, Tracy was a finalist for the Peacemaker of the Year award, handed out annually by the YMCA of Montreal. Under the international auspices of the YMCA, Tracy was nominated by a former residence floor fellow for her work with international students as a mentor, support person, surrogate mother and friend. "It was a privilege to be part of such an extraordinary group," she said of the other nominees, some of whom were doing international work on AIDS and child welfare.
Tracy's modesty is a reflection of her religious devotion. Calling herself a "cradle Anglican," who began going to church as an infant in the tiny village of Shigawake in the Gaspé, Tracy holds dear the lessons learned there. "The church is important because it reinforces a value system that keeps one humble and on track."
She came to Montreal at 15 to finish high school, a feat accomplished by few from her community. Tracy hit the workforce immediately upon graduation. "Where I come from it was expected that you support yourself early on," she said.
Working at Imperial Tobacco and training as a nurse, she married and had a daughter. A year later, Tracy's husband left her when she was pregnant with their second daughter, suddenly making her a single working mother in an era that boasted neither daycare nor maternity leave. "I was a nurse at the Queen E at the time and I worked right up to the day I delivered," she said.
By her own admission, Tracy does not spend great amounts of energy planning for the future.
Instead, she has faith that the world will unfold as it should. "Doors open," she said at her Bishop Mountain Hall office, perched on the side of Mount Royal. "And from there, things just develop."
But she is most certainly a hard worker. Between working full-time and raising her daughters, Tracy always managed to sneak in a few courses at Concordia. In 1978, she earned a BA in Applied Social Sciences - just in time to land a job as a nurse in McGill's Student Health Services.
Another door opened in 1979, when the warden of the Royal Victoria College (RVC) residence resigned. Although the position had always been held by academics, McGill administrators decided to break tradition and look for a non-academic to serve as warden for one year. Tracy, who had been working closely with students in her capacity as nurse for a dozen years by then, was offered the job. "It was a challenge," she said. "But I liked it and it liked me." It liked her so much, in fact, that she was made Director of Residences the very next year.
The next quarter century of residence life was marked by Tracy's profound humanism. Living at RVC, she dispensed words of advice to those who asked and now legendary "Flo hugs" to those who needed. More important, she fostered an atmosphere of respect, compassion and tolerance. "To be able to live and work with such an exceptional group of people and be able to impart some of life's values, well, it's really a gift to be part of their lives," she said.
On top of numerous stints on committees and commissions, Tracy has been the longtime vice-president of the Montreal Diocesan and Theological College, working closely with men and women who feel they are called to the ordained ministry. For her dedication and commitment, Tracy was just named the first layperson to be installed a canon of the church. The ceremony will take place on Dec. 10 at Christ Church Cathedral. When first told of the news, Tracy said, "I was floored. One of the biggest thrills was getting my first piece of mail addressed to Canon Flo Tracy. It is quite an honour." Of course, the letter probably would have gotten there just the same had there been but one word on the envelope - Flo.
Flo Tracy says of working with students: "It's a privilege to be part of an environment that touches people's lives."