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SUBURBAN DIARY

Working mother taught the value of work

Catherine Walsh
Peg Brunnock Walsh, 81, enjoyed dinner at Boston’s Top of the Hub restaurant after her 60th reunion at Labouré College last September. This March, she became the last of her 98 classmates to stop working.
Brunnock Family
Nurse Peg Walsh’s formal graduation portrait in 1957.

My mother, Peg Brunnock Walsh, 81, will finally be celebrating Mother’s Day as a retiree. When she gave up her private-duty nursing job on Cape Cod March 1, not long after her 60th nursing school reunion, she became the last of 98 classmates from Labouré College in Milton (formerly the Catherine Labouré School of Nursing) to stop working.

Over the years she used her earnings to educate eight kids with my father, live in a nice home, and give back to her alma mater and anyone in need. Along the way, she taught my siblings and me invaluable lessons about work and life. Sharing some of her key lessons, below, seems like a fitting Mother’s Day tribute.

Work expands your world.

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When my mother graduated from nursing school, few women worked outside the home and raised a family. But nursing’s shifts enabled her to work part time. Her work gave her an intellectual and social outlet, and her earnings — along with my father’s union plumber salary — enabled our family to camp around New England and, one summer, take a cross-country bus trip.

Brunnock Family
Peg enrolled at the Catherine Labouré School of Nursing in the fall of 1954, a couple of months after her high school graduation.

— Work is something you don’t take for granted.

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My mother worked in small and large hospitals, and also held a key administrative position in a Milton visiting nurses’ association. But whatever her position, her favorite adage to us was always “Take care of your job.” To her, that meant always doing superior work. My siblings and I try to do that in real estate, accounting, communications, nursing, education, plumbing, and law.

 — Work is where you work.

My mother was always wary of colleagues who were overly chatty. “The workplace can be fun,” she’d say, “but you’re at work to work.”

 — Work can be tough. Reward yourself lavishly sometimes.

During the years that my siblings and I were in college, my mother worked full time to help pay tuitions at Boston College, Stonehill, St. Michael’s, and Colby. When exhausted, she reminded herself that she was lucky to have a nurse’s skills and salary. And just as important, she treated herself to tea at the Ritz-Carlton. “A couple of hours of luxury,” she’d say, “goes a long way.” One of her proudest accomplishments is that her eight children have earned 13 degrees.

 — Work gives you bosses and co-workers of all kinds.

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My mother has always been realistic about the workplace’s diverse bosses and co-workers. She has dealt with tough nurse managers who terrorized subordinates and saintly mentors like Sister Cecilia who, she said, “taught me so much about compassion for the sick.” The VNA director who made her a liaison to three hospitals is another mentor to whom my mother is forever grateful. Regardless, my mother’s strategy was always the same: Excellent work that speaks for itself.

— Work is better when you’re well-rested.

Before workdays, my mother was a stickler about sleep. She still is. She insists that if you get seven to eight hours of sleep, starting around 10 p.m., the following day is more productive and enjoyable. Most nights, my mother turns off her classical music by 9:30 p.m., puts aside her book or newspaper, and heads to bed.

She makes an exception, however, when dancing with my dad. “One night, the Platters were performing at a plumbers’ function, and the music was so good that I danced my brains out until 1 a.m.,” she recalled. “I went to work at 7 a.m. and was in bed early that [next] night.”

Walsh family
Peg dances with her husband, Joe, at a plumbers’ event in the late 1980s.

— Work that helps others is infinitely rewarding.

My mother chose nursing because she has always enjoyed helping others. Caring for patients from every background imaginable taught her that people have the same needs, fears, and desires. She reminds her family that you can be of service in any job, something we have all tried to emulate.

 — Work gives you a good life. Enjoy that life.

Work is a means to an end, my mother believes. For her, that’s traveling with my father to visit kids and grandkids in the United States, Canada, and Asia. It’s defraying costs of summer family gatherings on the South Shore and the Cape, as well as up north for family ski weekends. It’s about sending checks to the Columban Fathers, nuns, and hurricane victims.

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Enjoying the fruits of your labor is perhaps my mother’s biggest lesson.

“When your work is done, enjoy yourself!” she says.

Her family does just that, thanks to our outstanding role model.

Happy Mother’s Day to Peg Walsh!

Catherine Walsh, a communications specialist who lives in Milton, can be reached at walshcath7@hotmail.com.