Hants’ Faces Friday - Rene Rigold


Published on February 17, 2017

Rene Rigold, now living happily in Windsor, wanted to give back, so she’s been providing a bursary to send disadvantaged children from the Maritimes to King’s-Edgehill School.

©Colin Chisholm

WINDSOR, N.S. — Faces Friday is our online feature highlighting members of our community: their strength, challenges and humanity.

Say hello to Rene Rigold, who has retired in Windsor after a long career in nursing and made it her home. Originally from the County of Kent in England, Rigold says she’s extremely fortunate to be where she is today considering everything she’s been through in her 88 years of life.

Losing both of her parents at a young age during the Great Depression could have been a disaster for her, however, with the help of some kind people, she ended up at a prestigious school where she received a formal education. Shortly after moving to Windsor, she began helping disadvantaged children from the Maritimes attend King’s-Edgehill School with a bursary for almost 20 years.

*Note: The interview has been edited for clarity and space.

“I was the youngest child of four. I had a brother, Stuart, who was nine years older than me. He was very bright, a wasted brain when he died. I had a sister, seven years older than me, called Jean, and another brother, three years older than me, and he was named Bernard. We were not well off, because my father was a mining engineer and had very good jobs when he was first married, in places like Egypt… Venezuela, India, and those sort of places. I don’t know much about that because I wasn’t even born then. The thing was, mother didn’t like him going away when (my siblings were born). My foster mother who looked after me when my parents died was a friend of my parents and she told me that my mother refused to pack when father had an assignment elsewhere in the world because she didn’t want him to go. He finally gave up mining engineering, came back to England and had to find some way to earn his living. So he started making suspenders to keep men’s socks up. I don’t know if men wear suspenders now on their socks. Anyhow, he had a little business and he made them with celluloid. This was in a little village called High Halden, in the county of Kent, which was south of London. It was a very rural place and we lived in a little bungalow.”

Rene Rigold looks through some of the items she’s collected over the years, including an award from Christ’s Hospital in England, where she attended school as an orphan.

©Colin Chisholm

“I know very little about my childhood because it was all split up when my parents died. Dad had a heart attack. Mother had cancer and she was in hospital where she trained in London, and he used to go up to London two or three times a week. We didn’t have a car, very little money, and he used to go by bus, which would take about three hours to get 50 miles. I can remember Dad having his heart attack after mother died. I can distinctly remember it. He was just in agony, sitting on his chair in the little room. And I guess the doctor had been and had given him medication and then he went to bed that night, we all went to bed, I got up in the morning to get on the bus to go to school… I used to go home for lunch, but the principal of the school came to me and told me I wasn’t going home for lunch. When school finished, I was taken downtown to the doctors. I got suspicious because they wouldn’t let me go home on the bus. I put on my blazer and I can remember crying all the way down the street. We got to the doctor’s house, a lady came to the door and she took me upstairs to a room in the house, opened the door, shoved me in and shut the door. I can remember it so clearly. There in the room was my younger brother, Bernard, and I said to him, ‘Bernard, what are we here for?’ so he said ‘oh, haven’t they told you? Dad’s died.’ And we had to decide where we going to stay.”

Rene Rigold shows off Felix, a small stuffed animal that she’s had since she was a child. She also takes care of cats in her retirement home.

©Colin Chisholm

“Mom died in 1936, Dad died in 1937, and in 1938, I was sent to this incredible school. In 1939, the war came. I went to Christ’s Hospital. It’s a very famous school in England, it was founded in 1552 by King Edward VI and he was only a teenager himself. He founded this school because he listened to a sermon by the Bishop of London, who was preaching to the wealthy people of London, who must do something about all of the street kids of London. He founded this school for kids who had nowhere to live. I found myself there in 1938, but of course by then it has evolved quite a bit. It was an incredible place. I was there all through the war. A friend of my parents realized I had to be educated and sponsored me. It saved my life. Anything might have happened to me if I hadn’t had a decent education. I was clothed and fed, because there was no money to look after me. This school provided all of our clothes, right down to our nightgown. We had a modern uniform, tunics and blouses. The boys wore orange stockings and little white cravats at their necks. Mind you, it wasn’t a ritzy place, but they educated us and looked after us. Most of the children there came from poor homes, but had got there by scholarship or sponsorship.”

Rene Rigold looks through some of the items she’s collected over the years, including an award from Christ’s Hospital in England, where she attended school as an orphan.

©Colin Chisholm

“A friend of mine and her husband came to Canada… and I came shortly after in 1956. I did four year’s nurses training at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, then I did a year of midwifery training and worked on the staff for a couple of years. And then (my friend) wrote to me and said, why don’t you come out to Canada? So I started the red tape of getting to Canada. That took about a year because I did it all by surface mail. They were in Quebec, just outside Montreal, so naturally I came to Quebec and I spent 40 years in Quebec — my whole nursing career there. During those 40 years, I worked in three different hospitals, the Montreal General, the Montreal Childrens’ Hospital, and another called St. Mary’s. They were all right in the city, where I rented an apartment and walked to work. I didn’t have any bus fares or anything and I kept fit and saved money. I didn’t learn French. I didn’t need it when I first went to Montreal. I was there for 40 years and by the time I retired, it was getting very difficult to do my work properly. I tried to take French courses more than once, but I never got off the first rung of the ladder.”

Rene Rigold enjoys a cup of tea at her retirement living home and tells her story of growing up in rural England. She says her life could have ended up much different, were it not for the kindness of others.

©Colin Chisholm

“It was a big deal at first, becoming a Canadian citizen. I was still very much so a Brit, but now I don’t think about that. I’ve been here for 60 years. I put it off, I should have become a Canadian citizen much earlier really, because I knew I was going to stay here the rest of my life. I wanted to become a Canadian citizen because of the situation in Quebec. The FLQ Crisis, when that diplomat was killed, and then it was becoming difficult if you didn’t speak French or if you didn’t have a French name. I just felt that the time was right to drop all of my British… I mean, I still have an accent, but that’s about all I’ve got now. I’m a Canadian now.”

Rene Rigold looks through some of the items she’s collected over the years, including an award from Christ’s Hospital in England, where she attended school as an orphan.

©Colin Chisholm

“(My friends) told me ‘you don’t want to stay in Montreal and retire, come down to Nova Scotia with us.’ So that’s how I came to Windsor, and I never regretted it. I love it down here. It’s not a big city; it’s just a friendly little town that’s sort of rural. It does remind me of where I came from to a certain extent; it does, because it’s very similar. (I’ve been giving to King’s-Edgehill School to sponsor students because) I realized I could hack it financially. I had looked after my money, had a good financial advisor. I never married, never had any children of my own and I never owned a house, a car, I lived very simply and I had a good nurses salary. My whole upbringing as a child, living on charity, and people giving me money to live had taught me to be very careful with my money. I’m still frugal. I wanted to help kids here, like I was helped.”