Giving Back in Work and Retirement: Lorraine Whiteman’s Career in Public Service
“It's never too late to be educated,” urges Lorraine Whiteman, who was born and raised in Fort Providence until the age of 16 when she went off to school in Yellowknife. She worked there as a casual with the government of the Northwest Territories and she chose to stay there and work to support herself because she didn’t have anyone else to do that for her. After a few years, she moved to Hay River, then to Normal Wells for seven years.
At that point, Whiteman was given time off to go to school so she took a management certificate program in Inuvik. She was close to thirty and for the first semester, she took her kids with her and in the second semester they stayed with their dad in Norman Wells. She went on to finish the diploma program and work in Fort Smith before working her remaining years in Yellowknife where she retired.
When she was working in Norman Wells, she was a receptionist and she moved from doing secretarial work to working in finance, something she really enjoyed. She really loved working in government, too and she worked hard to support herself. Over the course of Whiteman’s career, she was offered many jobs she wasn’t interested in, but she stuck to the work that she found lit her up instead of just applying for the sake of money.
“Just do whatever you want to do in life to survive and support yourself and be responsible.”
For youth considering leaving their home community in search of opportunity, Whiteman has advice to offer. “I would encourage the students to go and just explore the world. I mean, it's out there for you to do whatever you want, right? To be successful, you have to want to do it,” she advises.
“I was very fortunate, I think. I don't recall like any big, huge obstacle throughout my work. I just went to work and did whatever I had to do,” she recounts. Whiteman applied for roles that were intended for equity-seeking groups over the course of her career, something she found helpful. Working in her own community was a challenge but she considers herself to have been blessed in her work life.
When she was growing up, going onto post-secondary wasn’t very common and she wasn’t encouraged to do so. After high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for work, but she took business courses in high school to prepare her for the workforce after graduation and becoming self-sufficient.
“The stresses are still there, but alcohol doesn’t solve anything.”
Alcohol was an issue in her community when she was younger, thought it wasn’t as much a challenge as it is today. “I had gone through enough to realize that's not what I wanted my children to experience. Once I have them, the alcohol was out of my life. They never experienced that part of it,” Whiteman recounts.
She encourages youth to be cautious with alcohol and to move away from experimentation with drinking so they can grow up and take on adult responsibilities, particularly if there are children involved. “You're going to have to want the best for yourself, too, and for your children, if you have children and grandchildren,” she continues.
She might have retired from the workforce, but she’s still contributing in her own way. Volunteering on community boards, she’s giving back to her community in health care, through the friendship center and the investment board. “I think now that I'm older, have more experience and I’m willing to participate, I'm willing to take on that challenge of listening to people and the issues they may have within the community,” Whiteman says.
After all, it’s never too late to be educated, and it’s never too late to contribute to the community in a new way. After working in the public service and in her own community as an employee, she’s enjoying her retirement but staying as busy as she wants to be. Her career was spent doing the things she wanted to do to support herself, and now she’s able to do what she wants to do to help others.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.