Each generation comes with its own set of stories, shaping the world in its own way. Former St John paramedic Eileen Gordon shares some of her stories with Ruby Heyward.
Not everybody can do what Eileen Gordon has done and live to tell the tale.
Mrs Gordon has crawled in the “belly” of the Waitaki Dam as water swirled past her to tend to a worker who was struck by a turbine; she has been lowered from a helicopter to rescue mountaineers Mark Inglis and Phil Doole, who were trapped on Aoraki Mt Cook; she has calmed down shotgun-wielding men; come up against a rodeo bull while helping a fallen rider; and survived cancer.
“You can’t kill weeds,” Mrs Gordon said.
If anything, she was a gardener tending to Kurow and the people in it.
Mrs Gordon (89) was one of St John Waitaki’s founding members in 1964.
“I loved it. Nothing bothered me,” she said.
Before there was an ambulance in Kurow, there was a taxi service, run by Mrs Gordon’s first husband, Rob Pearson.
Mrs Gordon and Mr Pearson would regularly deliver people to Oamaru Hospital for medical emergencies – rather than have them wait 50 minutes for an ambulance from Oamaru.
A lot happened in the back seat of that car – from people entering the world to those leaving it.
“I’ve [seen] some terrible things.”
The couple would sometimes have to pull over and help deliver babies of women who were not going to make it to the hospital, taking shelter under the swaying willows along the Waitaki River.
“They were always going to [name] the girl after me – but they were always damn boys.”
After the death of a friend being transported by car from Kurow to Oamaru, Mrs Gordon thought “we have got to do something”.
She gathered sponsors and organised an “old-timey ball” to raise money for an ambulance – and by the early 1970s, Kurow had one.
Mrs Gordon (nee Herd) is originally from Palmerston. She moved to Kurow in 1952 for love, marrying Mr Pearson when she was 21.
She went to her first ball with him and, though she did not think much of him at first, he was a “beautiful dancer”.
“After a time, I thought the world of him.”
They met through her older sister, Phylis, who was living in Kurow with a husband of her own. Mrs Gordon regularly travelled from Palmerston to Kurow to visit her sister during school holidays. Growing up, Phylis was the dutiful daughter helping with inside chores, while Mrs Gordon was out on the family farm climbing to the tops of willows, riding her horse bareback, and getting into into trouble. She often asked her parents why she was not a boy.
“I had no fear as a child and I had no fear when I grew up.”
Intentional or not, Mrs Gordon was rebellious – towards gender roles and even her own body.
After undergoing serious surgery, she was told she would “never have a family”. But one day, she fell sick and was taken to Dunedin Hospital, where it was discovered she was pregnant.
“They wanted to abort it, I wouldn’t let them.”
She had two daughters, Jan and Marjorie, who were both born at the Kurow Maternity Hospital, which has since been converted into the Whalan Lodge rest-home where Mrs Gordon now resides.
“I’ve done some silly things, some things that needed to be done,” she said.
“If I could live life again, I would do the same thing.”
Mrs Gordon spent much time volunteering for St John – and her daughters often wondered where she was – but people needed help, she said.
When she was not on a St John call, she was working at the doctor’s surgery in Kurow or Twizel.
“I hate seeing people sick.”
The most rewarding part of it all was seeing someone who was ill recover, even just a little bit, she said.
She spent her life caring for others – in and out of her personal life – including her mother and mother-in-law when they fell ill.
Her first husband passed away in 1977.
She later married Mr Pearson’s cousin, Don Gordon, who had been a good friend. He died about 20 years ago.
She cared for both of her late husbands until the end.
Mrs Gordon is a life member of St John and was invested on to its order role in 1975.
Although retired, her days with St John are not entirely behind her.
Every month, Age Concern Kurow co-ordinator and social facilitator Jody Macdonald takes Mrs Gordon to St John meetings.
Now on the receiving end of care at Whalan Lodge, Mrs Gordon still had the “instinct” to help people and had to remind herself to relax if another resident was was feeling ill.
You cannot kill an instinct either, evidently.