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The life of a Jamaican-born nurse has sparked the interest of a popular United Kingdom (UK) television show.Mavis Stewart who moved to the UK as a 17 year-old in 1954 was featured on the popular BBC Radio 4 ‘Home Truths’ recently.
She told the programme about how she flew from Jamaica on September 3, 1954 for New Jersey in the United States and boarded the SS Ascania for the UK. She said she left the goodwill of an entire community behind her, and that the voyage took her from the sunshine and vibrant colours of the Caribbean to the smoke, fog and general drabness of 1950s austerity London.
Mrs. Stewart, who was originally Mavis Powell from Georges Valley in Manchester, spoke of the hard work and commitment of her parents, her six brothers and one sister, as the family’s finances meant that only one child could go onto further education. She was that child and the rest of the family worked to ensure that she benefited from this opportunity.
The producer of a popular television series based in a Yorkshire Hospital heard her on the BBC programme. He was so impressed by her story that the programme is now considering writing a black nurse into the programme, with Mrs. Stewart as a consultant.
“The producers of Home Truth called me and said they were approached by the producer of the television programme and asked if it was okay to give him my telephone number. The producer called me and I had a lunch meeting with him and the scriptwriters to talk about what it was like being a black nurse in that period. I am now awaiting further development,” she told JIS News.
Mrs. Stewart studied nursing, and then trained as a midwife and health visitor. She rose to become a National Health Service senior manager and was awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) for her contribution to Community Relations. She also received the (Jamaican) Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation two years ago.
“I was a family planning nurse, a district nurse for a short time, then I started to teach student nurses and health visitors and for this I acquired the City and Guild Technical teacher’s certificate.I rose to nursing officer for health visiting and I was a senior manager until I retired,” she said.
Mrs. Stewart told JIS News that while that period was very challenging, she was determined to follow her dream.
“I am of Jamaican stock. My heritage is one of perseverance and meeting challenges. I was determined to follow my dreams and no amount of ‘ism’ whether racism or classism that society could dream of, nothing would stop me. I still hold that same view; these are just minor irritations that happen in most of our lives. People who have been successful have been through this, but you have to keep focused,” she said.
Mrs. Stewart said despite the challenges, her early years in the UK were not all bad, as many of the patients and colleagues she worked with were very kind and treated her well and with respect.
She is the Health Promotion Advisor for the West Indian Standing Conference. She is also Vice Chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association and a member of the steering committee working to have a statue of Mary Seacole erected in London.
Mrs. Stewart is very active in numerous community and health related projects that benefit the Jamaican and wider UK community.
She is married to Johnny for 44 years and has two children and two grand children.