After Ezra Jeffrey died of COVID-19, co-workers made sure his memory lived on
Ezra Jeffrey was an orderly who gave to others before he took for himself. He always brought an extra coffee for a colleague. He shared his lunch if someone forgot theirs. And at the annual holiday party, he made a point of dancing with the residents and making them laugh.
So when the coronavirus struck this past spring, the 71-year-old employee at the Saint Margaret Residential Centre did what came naturally: Rather than retire, which he could have, he stayed on to help others.
Until, suddenly, he needed help himself.
One day in April, after tending to a resident, Mr. Jeffrey became ill. He lost his appetite, felt listless, and went home.
Five weeks later, Mr. Jeffrey was gone. The PAB (Préposé aux bénéficiaires) had succumbed to COVID-19.
“My father was a hero,” says his daughter, Amy Jeffrey. “He knew the risks. But he told me he wanted to be there during the crisis to help as much as he could. He loved his work, and always looked out for people.”
Mr. Jeffrey’s death devastated his co-workers in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. Over the years, he had earned the loyalty of managers and staff at Saint Margaret’s for his kindness and devotion. They insisted that he be remembered.
Today, everyone who walks into the seniors’ residence on Hillside Ave. in Westmount will be reminded of Mr. Jeffrey. Right inside the main lobby, a sign hangs over a set of double doors: EZRA P. JEFFREY STAFF LOUNGE.
Next to it is a plaque bearing Mr. Jeffrey’s photo. “In loving memory of our PAB,” it reads. “His dedication, conviction and beautiful smile during his 14 years of service will always remain and forever be a part of Saint Margaret’s.”
The tributes were unveiled at a ceremony June 17. Everyone wore black armbands pinned with a little rainbow. Staff had taken up a collection for Mr. Jeffrey’s family, and gave them a binder filled with testimonials written on index cards.
The words described a man whose character showed in small, daily gestures. PAB Lucy-Ann Ferguson, a colleague and friend at Saint Margaret’s, recalls that Mr. Jeffrey checked in on her daily when she was sick, and he insisted on driving co-workers home or to the metro if they needed a lift. Viki Doucette, Nurse Manager at Saint Margaret’s, remembers finding her car cleared of snow in the winter. Belatedly, she found out that Mr. Jeffrey was quietly going out to do it.
“He was a sweetheart. He was like everybody’s dad,” Ms. Doucette says. “His death was an awakening. It showed how precious life is.”
Staff say his passing also underscores the sacrifice of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. “He was a fallen soldier,” says Recreation Therapist Wendy Foster, who organized the tribute to Mr. Jeffrey with Ms. Doucette and Ms. Ferguson. “We really are, and were, in a war that nobody signed up for. We were conscripted. And it cost a life.”
Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, President and CEO of our CIUSSS, wrote a letter of condolence to Mr. Jeffrey’s family. In it, he praised Mr. Jeffrey’s “conscientious and compassionate” care for residents. “His great desire to help others—the mark of a truly dedicated healthcare worker—was evident in his determination to be of service, even though he could have taken a full and well deserved retirement,” he wrote.
The homages offered some solace to Mr. Jeffrey’s stricken family. Calls also came in from the families of residents, some as far away as Ontario. “It shows the impact that my dad had on his co-workers, on residents, and on the whole establishment,” says Ms. Jeffrey. “And that leaves a warm place in my heart.”