Born in 1915 in Kelowna, Phyllis Swaisland spent most of her life in the Okanagan, having grown up in Mission on her parents’ dairy farm and orchard. After graduating from Kelowna High School, she trained and received her RN at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria. During World War II Phyllis served as a Canadian Army nurse at Gordon Head base in Victoria, where she met her first husband, Jerry Purslow, with whom she had one daughter, Anne. Jerry was tragically killed in action in Southern Italy, and, following his death, Phyllis and Anne moved to Vancouver so that Phyllis could enrol at UBC to complete a Bachelors of Science in Nursing. With her new degree in hand, Phyllis returned to the Okanagan in 1945 as a single mother to become the first Public Health nurse in Salmon Arm.
In 1946, Phyllis married John Swaisland, who would be her husband for 58 years until he passed away in 2003. They lived in an orchard in Winfield, where their three sons were born, and she continued to work for Public Health. Phyllis returned with her family to Okanagan Mission in the late 1950’s to build a house on the lake property of her childhood home, which became a welcoming mecca for relatives and friends for years to come. Remembered for her generosity and openness, her great sense of humour, and her energy and indefatigable spirit, Phyllis passed away in November 2010 at the age of 95.
In memory of their mother, Anne Cubitt and her three brothers Gerry, Peter and Ian Swaisland created the Phyllis Swaisland Memorial Bursary in Nursing at UBC’s Okanagan campus. The award, which provides a $2,000 bursary to a second, third, or fourth year student in the School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health and Social Development at UBC’s Okanagan campus, gives preference to a student who is a single parent, as Phyllis was when she began her UBC education. Daughter Anne recalls about her mother’s career, “Nursing was a really important part of her life; it gave her a way of raising a child.”
The bursary, which will first be available to a student in UBC Okanagan’s 2011/2012 Winter Session, serves as a way for Anne and her brothers to remember their mother and the things that she valued, and to help students in the community who are in need to receive an education. Anne says of the award, “The impact is symbolic. It’s about caring that students who are in need get an opportunity to succeed.” Phyllis’s family hopes that students who receive the bursary are able to enjoy the same long-lasting success that she did.