April 1, 2017

Delores Atkinson | Keeping students, faculty and staff safe and secure, and making patients, visitors and dignitaries feel welcome

She’s been on the job for 28 years – 21 of those at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). At four-foot ten-inches she may seem an unlikely candidate for a security officer, but it’s her smile, cheery disposition and calm voice that create a seven-foot tall persona.

She’s been on the job for 28 years – 21 of those at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). At four-foot ten-inches she may seem an unlikely candidate for a security officer, but it’s her smile, cheery disposition and calm voice that create a seven-foot tall persona.

“I was working in caretaking, and one day, Lanny Fritz, the then-director of campus security, said to me, Delores, we’d love to have you join campus security, and that was that, I was so honored”, said Delores Atkinson, University of Calgary Campus Security Office, Foothills Campus. “We’re trained to be first responders, and handle crisis situations, but the heart of the job is building relationships, treating everyone with respect and helping people. That’s what I’m really good at and they saw that in me.”

“I also have the gift of remembering names and that comes in very handy at this job.” In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone Delores doesn’t know.  She makes a point of knowing who everyone at CSM is, including what they do, and where their office is.

“It’s absolutely amazing what goes on at this place, every day. Sometimes when I’m checking out the labs, I will talk to the researchers and peek into the microscope. The researchers and clinicians are making a huge difference in people’s lives and we are so lucky to have these facilities and these experts in Calgary.”

Delores and her family have experienced the expertise first-hand. When her son was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 21, Delores encouraged him to be part of a research study. “The care he received was amazing, from the emotional support to advice with the medication, it really did help him and hopefully his participation in that study will help others.” When I know someone comes to our building to be part of a study, I thank them, these studies can change people’s lives for the better.”

Delores is a huge champion for CSM, you can often overhear her telling visitors all about the research institutes, the Bachelor of Health Science and summer programs. “I love talking to young people, we get a lot of school groups coming through and I tell them all about the research and cool things they could become involved in and I say some day I hope to see you back here as a student.”

Some of the toughest days on the job are the emergencies, but Delores is guided by a quote by Virginia Woolf “There is luxury in being quiet in the heart of chaos.” “That’s how I feel, I’ve had to get firm with some people when the building alarm is going off and they don’t want to leave, but I always manage to talk them into it. I say you might not care about what happens to you, but I have a family to get home to and I want to see them again, so we need to go.”

From making the decision to evacuate the buildings in 2013 when she smelled natural gas to being part of the security detail when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Ward of the 21st Century in 2011 Delores says there’s never a dull day on the job.

“From the first day I started the job at the University of Calgary I’ve been welcomed into a big family and I try to pass that feeling along to others.”

“President Cannon still stops and says hi whenever she’s in the building, I met her way back when I was in caretaking at the Schulich School of Engineering and she still takes the time to check in on me, that’s really neat.”

Delores has a big family of her own, with four children and nine grandchildren. One of her granddaughters attends UCalgary and about once a week they meet up for coffee at the Starbucks at Yamnuska Hall.  “We just meet up to chat, and check in on each other, everyone needs that, someone to talk to.”

Tidbits from Delores

What’s it like working with Bob: We’re best friends. We’ve heard jokes about me being his work-wife and him my work-husband, but the truth is, we’re on the same page, we share the same values and work ethic, we have each other’s back and when we’re not here, we sometimes hang out with our real partners, the four of us. Yeah.

Favorite snack at CSM: The samosas at Cravings at the Women’s Health Centre can’t be beat, and the vending machine. I’m fond of an Oh Henry! bar once in a while and Miss Vickie’s salt and vinegar chips. We all have our vices.

Best place to study or enjoy a quiet cup of tea or coffee: The cross-over floors on the north side between HRIC and HMRB, there’s little tables and chairs and plants, and you can glance over and see the picture of Bud McCaig, such a terrific man.

What should the Cumming School of Medicine do in the next 50 years: Recruit, nurture and encourage visionaries. This place was built on a vision of the future for Calgary and what a great medical school we could have here. There have been so many fabulous discoveries made here by people who were visionaries, people who could see what others couldn’t and they made it happen.