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In memoriam - Remembering Judith Blake, trailblazer, community builder and mentor

By Cecily Alexander
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Judith (Hutchenson) Blake, died on March 9th, 2019, at eighty years of age. Her death saddened me as she was my mentor and a dear friend. She was so vibrant and active that I thought she would be around to be my confidante into her nineties, but that wasn’t meant to be. My name is Cecily Alexander. I was moved by DC's recent discussions on diversity to share Judith’s remarkable story as a dietitian and a friend.
 
Judith was from Dominica in the Caribbean.  She came to Canada to attend Mount St. Vincent university in 1958 where she completed her Nutrition degree. She interned at St Michael’s hospital in Toronto in 1962. Her first job was at Providence Villa Hospital in Toronto.
 
Judith's most significant role was at the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) where she worked from 1969 until her retirement in the mid-nineties. She worked in the Educational Services Department as a dietetic consultant. At the time, OHA produced our diet manuals, which were a collection of special therapeutic diets. Judith was instrumental in changing the focus of these manuals from a collection of diets, to a publication that was based on published scientific recommendations. In collaboration with the Ontario Dietetic Association, she produced two Nutrition Care Manuals - the precursor to today's PEN Knowledge Database, and which were significant go-to resources for dietitians at the time.  She was also responsible for planning the Dietetic section of the Ontario Hospital Association convention every year.
 
I met Judith at the Canadian Dietetic Association Convention in Ottawa in June 1977. We were drawn to each other. Dietitians of colour were almost non-existent in the 1970’s in our conservative profession. 
 
In the seventies and eighties many West Indian Nutrition students were not being accepted into internships. In the days before political correctness, many were told directly that they weren't accepted because, “why waste the time and money on a grad that would return to the West Indies anyway.”  Of course, this wasn't usually the case, as only a very small percentage of new graduates after internship returned to the West Indies to practice, and the majority wanted to intern and then work in Canada. Judith being a mentor to many, formed a network where on Saturday afternoons at her home, students and dietitians of colour would get together to strategize. We would help each other in writing resumes and letters to potential placements, and decide which internships would most likely accept students of colour.
 
Why do I call Judith a mentor?  She took it as her personal responsibility to be available for guidance throughout my career. I remember when I had just made a significant change from clinical dietetics to clinical nutrition management and was being encouraged by the VP of the hospital where I worked to compete for the Manager of Nutrition and Food Services position. Judith got together with two other influential dietetic professionals at that time, Sandy Matheson and Ilene Calder, and phoned me to give me guidance on the direction I should take. I took their advice. I do not think that type of mentorship occurs in our profession today.
 
Following Judith’s example, I have tried to be available for students applying for internship and new RDs who seek my guidance and advice. From 1986 to 1995, I worked as the Clinical Manager at University Hospital in London. Carol Henry, a professor at Brescia University College, and I formed a Black Professional Group. One of the ways I assisted Carol was in mentoring black and West Indian dietetic students. I helped with their resumes and coached them on the interview process.
 
My greatest honour was being able to present the Ontario Dietetic Association “Award of Honour” to Judith in 1992. At that same meeting, I received a “Peer Recognition Award”. Two dietitians of colour being recognized for their achievements. We had already come a long way, but a longer road still lay ahead.  
 

Cecily Alexander is a registered dietitian who has experience in all areas of dietetics. She graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor in Applied Science in Nutrition and interned at the Montreal Regional Dietetic Internship program. She also has a diploma in Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Guelph.

In a long and varied career, Cecily worked as a clinical dietitian, clinical manager, professional practice leader, food service manager, university and community college professor/lecturer, university internship preceptor, and more recently as an advisory RD to students who have completed the independent practicum. She has had extensive experience in mentoring students over many years.

She was elected President of the College of Dietitians of Ontario (3 terms). During those nine years, she had many roles as council member, committee chair, committee member and also sat on the registration committee when the initial independent practicum was developed.

Over a 40 year career in dietetics, Cecily had experience in many environments, including Victoria Hospital and University Hospital in London (now London Health Sciences Centre), Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital (now Grand River Hospital), Sarnia General Hospital (now Blue Water Hospital) and until November 2011, clinical dietitian at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital. She also taught management courses at Brescia University College in the Food and Nutritional Sciences department from 2000 to 2013.

Learn more about Cecily on her website, including her recently published memoir called, Immigration, Race and Survival. Visit http://cecilyalexander.com/.


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