Marny Ryder seems to have her thoughts in order. The high-energy septuagenarian sits in her Riverdale dining room and recounts her life —in almost perfect chronological order.
She starts in December 1959, when she first arrived in the Yukon as a newly minted nurse. She worked in Whitehorse for a little over a year before she was shipped to Watson Lake in 1961.
“I was 23 years old and working alone in Watson Lake as the nurse from south of Lower Post through to Whitehorse,” recounts Ryder.
Just what were her responsibilities during this time? “Everything,” Ryder replies emphatically.
“I was always out to highway accidents, I was on medivacs, if someone needed sutures I did that too.”
The all-encompassing nature of the job eventually took its toll on the young Ryder. “I liked the people in Watson, it was just that the workload was too much.” So in the fall of 1961 she packed up her belongings and drove back to her home in Ontario.
But the Yukon wanted her back. “Ten days later [Northern Health Services] offered me a job in Dawson,” says Ryder. So she turned the car around and rolled back north.
She still had a large area that she was responsible for — stretching from Dawson through to Mayo and Pelly Crossing – but this time she received more institutional support, and that made all the difference.
“I stayed in Dawson for two years and I loved it,” she explains. “Loved the work. Loved the town.”
After her term in Dawson was up, she did what seemed to come naturally to her: she drove back to Ontario, this time to get her nursing degree at Queen’s University. In the fall of 1965 she accomplished this goal and then – you guessed it — she drove back here.
“I was a free bird after I graduated, but by that time I had been bitten by the North.”
She still enjoyed nursing, but her logical mind and inborn leadership qualities were beginning to lead her in the direction of management. In 1969 she accepted a gig as the zone nursing officer for the Yukon and parts of Northern B.C. Among other things, she was in charge of medivacs.
She hit it off with Lloyd Ryder, one of the medivac pilots, and they began dating.
“I had a chance to do my master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, but Lloyd thought I was making a big mistake,” she says.
Marny Ryder’s father agreed: “He thought Lloyd was a good man,” she says. They were married later that year.
Ryder’s career slowed down briefly when she and Lloyd decided to have their children, John and Jenny, but you wouldn’t notice if you glanced at her resume.
Between 1971 and 1984 Ryder taught nursing assistants at Yukon College. Then she served as the Dean of Business and Applied Arts until 1992, when she got fed up with the politics of the college and quit.
She spent the last 10 years before retirement doing “staff development and performance management” for the Public Service Commission and the Workers’ Compensation Board.
Then, just as the golden years beckoned, she was asked to be the chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation. Out of a sense of civic duty, she accepted.
“I always thought of Whitehorse General as the finest hospital in Canada,” she says. “I felt I owed it to the community to do what I could to keep it that way.”
Indeed, little changed after her so-called retirement until December of 2009, when Lloyd passed away after 40 years of partnership. “I’m still getting used to being by myself,” she says.
The truth is, she is not by herself at all. During the course of our interview she is interrupted a few times by one of her grandchildren, who informs Ryder that she is out of cookies.
As the interview wraps up, one of her friends drops by and makes herself at home in the living room. Then her daughter, Jenny, comes over as well. It turns out Jenny lives only a few blocks away, and her son, John, also resides in Riverdale.
“I’ve always loved what I’ve done, and I’ve always had good relationships with people,” she says. It seems a lifetime of caring has left Ryder well cared for in return.