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For Gloria Valderrama and Jennifer Lavia, UHN Nutrition Services provided an impactful career – and a lifelong friendship.
The pair met in the hospital kitchen more than 45 years ago and have been working side-by-side ever since.
Unwilling to bear a workday without the other, they agreed to retire together on January 31, 2023.
"When she's not here it's so quiet," Jennifer says about her colleague and friend. "It would be so boring without her here."
Gloria originally planned to retire in 2022, but told her husband, "Give me one more year," so they could go out together.
"We're close – but we fight too," Gloria says with a laugh. "It's never really serious!" For example, when Jennifer says she's going for break, Gloria will jokingly reply: "Who cares?"
Gloria started with Nutrition Services, part of the Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO) Department, as a dietary aide in 1975 at Toronto Rehab's E.W. Bickle Centre – then called Queen Elizabeth Hospital – on Dunn Avenue.
Jennifer started part time shortly after in 1977 – within a month she became full-time. Eventually, they moved to the Nutrition Centre at Toronto Rehab, University Centre on University Avenue.
"When I came here I knew nothing," Jennifer recalls of those early days. "Gloria was my first teacher when I started this job.
"She was the one who taught me the things that I know."
Gloria taught Jennifer about the various patient diets at the time, from regular to diabetic or bland, and helped her find her way around the kitchen.
From day one, Jennifer always felt comfortable going to Gloria for help.
"I like her attitude, how she approaches things," says Jennifer. "She's very helpful – even if she's overwhelmed, when you come to her with a question she takes the time to explain it."
In four decades they've worked various roles in Nutrition Services, from dietary aide, to salad tech, food production and in the dish room. On Jan. 31, Gloria will retire as a menu clerk – assisting the clinical dietitians and diet technicians with patient meal planning – and Jennifer will retire as a cold food production nutrition aide.
After 46 years of working Monday to Friday and every other weekend together, they won't miss each other – "We'll communicate," Gloria says confidently – but they will miss the work.
"The experience I've had here – it's nice," Gloria says. "I love my job and how I was able to build my career here.
"It's the people – I enjoy what I'm doing for the patients."
Jennifer agrees: "I like helping people."
In retirement, they both have plans to travel.
Gloria will return home to the Philippines and live there six months of the year.
"I haven't been home since before COVID," says Gloria. "You're going to see me always at the beach!"
Jennifer also plans to return home to Trinidad and Tobago and spend half the year there.
Of course, they have plans to visit each other in their home countries, too.