The Missing Founder – A Halloween Tale

31 October 2014

At a Halloween social at Bloomberg Nursing, Pulse magazine editor Susan Pedwell shared a chilling story with all who gathered…

Just last week I was working late and scurrying around the faculty, clutching a bunch of papers (which is what I do here). As I scurried past the portrait of Kathleen Russell on the second floor, I gave her a nod, as I always do.

I have enormous respect for Kathleen Russell, who was our Faculty’s director from 1920 to 1952. In those years, Miss Russell fought – and won – nursing’s rightful place in the university. She fought – and won – for the right of women to enter the professions. She was relentless, she was brilliant. And in keeping with the times, she was impeccably put together, and never left the house unkempt. She had great hair – her blonde locks lay in waves, and she wore it up, secured with a few perfectly placed bobby pins.

Now, Kathleen Russell also had focus. You can see it in her eyes, which can only be described as steely blue. She focused her whole life on U of T Nursing. In fact, Kathleen devoted her life to our Faculty.

That evening when I passed Kathleen’s portrait something was different – and it’s never different. I’ve nodded to Kathleen hundreds of times over the years. But this time something caught my eye. I walked three steps past the portrait and froze.

“Couldn’t be!” I said to myself. “You’re tired! Go home and watch Murdoch Mysteries.”

But I was curious. Very slowly, I turned around and took one, two, and then three steps until I stood directly in front the picture – and discovered that Miss Russell was gone! All that was left was a single bobby pin laying on the floor.


Deep inside my soul, I knew this day would come. Kathleen Russell had devoted her whole life to U of T Nursing. It is only logical that she would devote her whole afterlife to us, too.

My thoughts raced to immediately to Linda Johnston, who has come from so far away to be our dean. It’s far too early for her to find out that her new Faculty is haunted. I had to find Kathleen Russell! I wandered past the coffee room, and there she was – tall, slender and as gracious as always, although her hair was a bit messy on one side.

“May I speak with Miss Johnston?” she asked.

I gulped. “I don’t believe she’s in, Miss Russell,” I responded, which was kind of true.

Then she shot me a look with her steely blue eyes. “Did we ever get our tennis court?” she asked. In her latter years, Miss Russell had fought hard for nursing students to have their own residence where they could dine together and mingle with guests from around the world. And she wanted her nursing students to have their own tennis court. Women were barred from the Hart House facilities until the 60s, so I see her point.

“I’m sorry, no tennis court,” I responded. I thought Miss Russell was going to faint with disappointment. She clutched the counter with one hand, and I reached out and clasped her other hand between my own. Her hand was icy cold.

Although I would have loved to have sat with Kathleen Russell and listened to her stories, it was obvious that she is no longer of this world. She belongs in the painting where she can inspire us, where she can watch over us.

It didn’t take much encouragement from me to get her back into the hall. I dragged a chair over to her portrait frame and helped her fragile body back inside. She struck her usual pose, and I tucked her wayward strand of hair behind her ear.

What I did not do is give her back her bobby pin. I picked it up off the floor. I’m keeping it, and may just wear it.

It’s quite possible that you don’t believe my story. But I keep this bobby pin with me to manage those wayward strands. It lives in my office… drop by anytime… and be sure to nod at Kathleen as you walk by.