Community activist Miriam Green moved to action by childhood experiences

Goldbloom award winner Miriam Green, in NDG. (Photo: Irwin Block)Goldbloom award winner Miriam Green, in NDG. (Photo: Irwin Block)

When Miriam Green was growing up in the early 1940s in the newly burgeoning Snowdon district, she remembers the experiences, not all positive, that have nurtured her drive to serve those in need.

Born in Montreal, her parents were newcomers to the city: Polish-born Nathan Green and Anne Shapiro, born in Latvia, met here and with partners he operated a small leather-glove factory.

The family purchased and moved into one of those modest duplexes on Trans Island — they were selling for $7,000 — and with the rent could afford to live in their own home.

Young Miriam was the only Jewish child in the neighbourhood and the anti-Semitic taunts she received from the other children, and the
destruction of her family in Europe during World War II, instilled in her an understanding of what it is to be stigmatized and victimized.

“My mother used to walk me to Iona School and picked me up because the kids would harass me,” she recalled.

These experiences fueled her pioneering work as a social worker and community organizer. Paraphrasing the words of German theologian Martin Niemöller, Green says she realized, “if you don’t stand up for people in trouble, one day you’ll be in trouble and there’ll be nobody there.”

Prime mover in Benny Farm project

Green has always been there for them: Among her achievements, she became the first female director general of a regional social service agency, prime mover in creating the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex and Benny Farm Community Project, and prominent activist in Alliance Québec in the late 1980s and 1990s.

In recognition of her dedication and successful career, Green is among three recipients of this year’s Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Community Service Award. It recognizes those who have strengthened Quebec’s English-speaking communities and built bridges among all Quebecers. The awards will be handed out at a gala October 27.

She studied at the High School for Girls on University Ave., then McGill University where she obtained her B.A, in literature and philosophy and her Master’s of Social Work, graduating in 1960. She married the same year and had two sons.

Her first job was with psychiatric patients at the Verdun Protestant Hospital, today the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. After travelling with her then husband, a medical resident, for his advanced training in the U.S., she returned to Montreal and began working with the Family Service Association, which merged to become part of the Ville Marie Social Health and Social Services Centre.

Because of her managerial skills she rose to become the first woman director of a Quebec social service centre in 1989.

Green took early retirement in 1995, but never stopped working: She was asked to be a top manager for the Regional health board. “They created a position for me, making me responsible for English health and social services. They had 300 staff and they had nobody who knew anything about what was happening in the English-speaking world.”

During that time she served on the boards of the Douglas and Montreal General hospitals, where she started a quality-assurance committee, then an innovative step, to measure the quality of medical services.

“Now it’s a standard thing, then it didn’t exist,” she remarks.

Green lived in San Francisco in the early 1970s  where she became aware of the specific health and social service needs of the gay community. As a result she began to educate professionals here about gay issues.

“One member of a lesbian couple, who had split with her husband to co-habit with a woman, came to family services for help on how to raise her son. As a result, I started organizing sessions to teach our staff about things gay.

“I remember being called in the middle of the night to deal with a crisis and having to leave my husband and two sons.” Green recalled.

She lobbied Quebec for funding and was involved with issues surrounding the first child born in Canada with HIV.

Green started gay support groups and stepped forward to religious communities to help them understand and accept homosexuality, developed educational programs in schools, and spoke to medical students about  gay-specific issues.

In recognition of her work, the Conseil Québéois LGBT has decided to award her its Prix Honoris this year, equivalent to its hall of fame.

At one point in her career, Green became involved with Alliance Quebec as a volunteer and presided over often-stormy public meetings even as she was working at Ville Marie.

In the 1990s she was instrumental in helping transform the Queen Elizabeth Hospital into an independent non-government funded health centre.

‘Dedicaton to community’

Dr. Mark Roper, chief physician at the centre, lauds Green’s “managerial skills, personality, and dedication to the community” in helping with the transformation.

Green also played a leadership role in developing the  Benny Farm Community Project, resisting pressure to build condos there.

After years of lobbying and negotiation, the land and buildings in western NDG retained their non-profit mandate and became a multi-purpose community, which includes a senior residence and a residence for those with severe handicaps.

Despite her active professional life,  Green finds time to enjoy the Laurentian community of Ste. Adolphe de Howard and winters in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

In spite of worrisome political developments affecting health and social services, including the loss of local control of institutions, Green says she remains positive and optimistic.

“There are still possibilities for advancements and improvements in the world,” she says, with a smile.

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