McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

One of McMaster's most senior staff members is too busy to work

Published: May 9, 2006
Family Medicine Photo
Barb Cave

When Barb Cave says goodbye to McMaster University at the end of this month, she’ll take with her a wealth of memories that include images most current employees may find hard to believe.

Who can imagine McMaster without any computers? Or recall walking through the former Royal Botanical Sunken Gardens, past an open field and a small library, before heading up the steps of Gilmour Hall? And making that trek every day in a skirt, as women were not allowed to wear pants to work?

All of those images and many more are firmly etched in Cave’s memory as she ends her 42-year career at McMaster. A special celebration in honour of her retirement is planned Thursday, May 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. in HSC-2J13. All faculty and staff are invited to attend.

"I was hired (at McMaster) straight out of high school," Cave said. "I came in for an interview and they called me the next day to offer me the job."

That job as a cashier involved taking payments from students, standing all day "in high-heel shoes and your pretty little dress." It was 1964, and it wasn’t until the late ’60s that the hard and fast dress code was changed to include pant suits.

Despite all the changes Cave has seen in the ensuing four decades, that cashier’s role is still carried out in the exact same spot today, in Room 208 of Gilmour Hall.

The location and types of work Cave has done for the University has changed numerous times. She worked for the bookstore, food services, and back at Gilmour Hall before landing in the Faculty of Health Sciences more than 30 years ago. Most recently she has been an accounting clerk in the finance department.

As the longest serving staff member at McMaster, Cave has witnessed and been part of huge changes at the University.
"I was here when the University got its first computer system in 1968," she said, recalling the "huge and amazing machines."

She was also on the ground floor, figuratively and literally, when the Health Sciences Centre was built in the early ’70s. It was built on the site of the sunken gardens that Barb used to walk through every day, and she worked on the project to furnish the building.

"I started working here before the place even opened," she said. "We walked on planks over mud flats to enter at the side of the building. And we wore hard hats to move about in the building.

"It was really exciting at that time, with all the building going on, and researchers arriving from all over the world."

She remembers one day in particular during the construction. Visibly pregnant, she was wearing a hard hat and the very fashionable style of the day - a mini-skirt.

"You get the visual – somebody told me I looked like a turtle," she recalled with a laugh.

The list of different jobs she’s held over the decades is long, and it’s a key reason she has always been happy working at McMaster.

"I’ve always enjoyed every job I’ve done. If I didn’t like the job, I would at least make it fun.

"Life is fun, I don’t have time to work anymore," said the mother of two grown children and grandmother of one, who is relishing the idea of retirement. "There are too many other things to do."

Although she had lived in the Hamilton area all her life, she recently moved to Port Dover with her partner Ron Watson, and she is looking forward to the laid back lifestyle of the community. Golfing, boating, traveling and horseback-riding are just a few of the things she has planned to occupy her time.

She also enjoys skiing in the winter, is a member of the Red Hat Society, and has been involved at the local level in provincial and federal politics.

Will she miss working at Mac? Honestly? No, she said. She won’t have time to miss it. There are just too many other things she plans to enjoy.

But her co-workers will miss her.

"It’s so hard to believe we won’t have Barb around here anymore," said Jody Boxall, comptroller for FHS finance department, and Cave’s supervisor. "She has such a superb institutional memory.

"And it’s especially hard to believe she’s even old enough to retire. As I said to her when she told me she was leaving, ‘I’m extremely sad that you’re leaving, but I’m extremely happy for you.’"

Barb’s official last day at work is May 31. "Oh yes, I’ll be in that day," she says, "but I don’t think I’ll be working."

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