Life hasn’t slowed down one bit for retired Edmonton teacher Noel Somerville, former executive secretary of the Edmonton Public Teachers local.
“My career in teaching and with Edmonton Public was really all-consuming. I didn’t have much time left over to give back to the community,” notes Somerville, 80. “Like many retirees, I now find myself wondering how I ever had time to work!”
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Somerville came to teaching after a career in architecture and a stint in the British army. He served in the British army from 1950 to 1952, fulfilling his national service requirement. After leaving the army, he moved to Edmonton to join an older brother who had come to Canada shortly after World War II.
In the mid-1960s Somerville obtained an education degree from the University of Alberta and went to work for the Edmonton public school system as a vocational education teacher. He became assistant principal at Victoria Composite High School, in Edmonton, a full vocational school at the time, then transferred to McNally Composite High School as assistant principal. During this time, he joined the executive of the Edmonton Public Teachers local and served as local president for three years.
In the late 1970s he was appointed a staff officer of the Edmonton Public Teachers local and served as assistant executive secretary for several years; he became executive secretary when his predecessor retired. After retiring in 1997 at age 65, he joined the Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team (SALT), an Edmonton-based group concerned with social justice issues. In 2004 he joined Public Interest Alberta (PIA), a nonpartisan organization that advocates for public services, public institutions and public spaces, and served on its board for a couple of years. Since 2005 he has chaired PIA’s Seniors Task Force.
“I’ve always thought of Public Interest Alberta as the anti–Fraser Institute,” he reflects. “I was getting really tired of the media constantly turning to the Fraser Institute for information and being told that privatization is the solution to every public policy problem. I spent my career in public education, which I think is an extremely valuable service, and I just don’t believe that privatization is the solution to all public policy problems.”
As PIA was being formed, Somerville was becoming interested in seniors’ care in Alberta, “because it seemed that the whole care system was under a lot of strain. Canadians are very proud of our Canada Health Act and our health insurance system. … But once they become seniors and start experiencing some of the problems that come with age, the health care system they have counted on all their life seems to abandon them. Our system is very good at providing emergency care and acute care, but seems to fall down when it comes to chronic care and the personal care that so many older people need.”
In 2005, when PIA formed its Seniors Task Force, Somerville asked seniors’ organizations in Alberta to appoint a representative to the task force. “On the issue of seniors’ care, we have formed what we call MLA contact teams. We’ve been working to organize teams in every constituency in the province to talk to their MLA two or three times a year to educate them about the problems in the seniors’ care system. You can only produce a certain amount of change from the top down—a lot of change has to come from the bottom up.
”Among all of his accomplishments, Somerville is most proud of his family—his wife, Lynda, a former English teacher, his son and daughter, and two grandsons in Calgary, ages 8 and 13.This article was published in the Alberta Teachers' Association Magazine on December 10, 2012. Read the full article on the ATA website.