Two co-workers, a century of service in Maintenance

Peter Whalen (left) and Harold Otter of the JGH Maintenance Department
Peter Whalen (left) and Harold Otter of the JGH Maintenance Department

The Jewish General Hospital opened the door to Peter Whalen in 1971 by giving him a job. Now, Mr. Whalen opens doors for others.

A locksmith in the JGH Maintenance Department, Mr. Whalen is marking 50 years of service at the JGH, many of them spent helping others by unlocking their doors. His friend and colleague, Harold Otter, is celebrating 51 years in Maintenance, too—initially in summer jobs, followed by 46 years as a full-time employee.

Between them, they have dedicated over 100 years of work to the JGH, ensuring that the grounds and buildings of the hospital are safe for staff and patients. And starting May 3, they will be honoured as part of our CIUSSS’s Gratitude Week, along with legions of long-term employees who have devoted themselves to their jobs.

“We want to pay tribute to them,” says Beverly Kravitz, the CIUSSS’s Director of Human Resources, Communications, Legal Affairs and Global Security.

Mr. Whalen and Mr. Otter began working in Maintenance in the 1970s, in an era when employees still used time-clock punch cards and filled out request forms on typewriters. Down the years, they helped the hospital navigate through some of its biggest challenges, like the great deluge of 1987, when a sudden downpour soaked Montreal and sent benches floating through the JGH’s main lobby; or the Ice Storm of 1998, when electricity was knocked out across the city and Maintenance crews made sure generators kept the hospital functioning.

But nothing could prepare them for the upheavals of the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year. Maintenance not only erected hundreds of plexiglass shields around the hospital, but provided the muscle and skills to build new walls that redirected patient flow on several units, all at a moment’s notice.

Both Mr. Whalen and Mr. Otter were eligible to retire years ago. But they stayed on, feeling they still have something to contribute to a team of mechanics, carpenters, electricians, painters and plumbers who share the know-how to “maintain a small village,” as the department puts it.

“I feel there’s something to learn every day,” says Mr. Whalen, 69. “I’m still learning. I look forward to coming to work.”

“I’m still here because I like it—I like the hospital and I like the people,” adds Mr. Otter, 72, who goes by the name Hal. “It sounds kind of corny, but it’s like a family.”

A colleague in Maintenance, Terry Cloran, who repairs equipment in the Laundry Department, is also part of the half-century club: He has notched an impressive 55 years on the job.

Stephan Simioni, Chief of Maintenance at the JGH, says all three men have shown steadfast professionalism and a strong work ethic. “After all these years, they’re contributing as much as they did on Day 1, if not more,” he says. “They’re making a difference.”

For Gratitude Week, the CIUSSS is distributing commemorative pins and thank-you notes to staff who celebrated work milestones (in multiples of five) in 2020. It’s a gesture of appreciation for employees’ hard work during an especially tough year. “Every member of the CIUSSS family has dug deep during these very difficult times. They have all shown great resilience and dedication,” Ms. Kravitz says. “Please know how grateful we are.”