Alberto and Dianne Perri on vacation in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Alberto and Dianne Perri on vacation in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In retirement, the Perris plan to continue their goal of visiting each province and territory in Canada. (Photo: Perri family)

If the walls of Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) could talk, they would have many stories to tell. Not just of the patients cared for under its roof, the discoveries made by physicians and researchers, or how staff in a variety of departments show up to do the jobs that all focus on one thing: patient care.

There are also the many life stories that take place among staff – stories of love, stories of family.

Stories like that of Dianne and Alberto Perri – two kids who grew up in the community around TWH and saw their life together begin within the hospital.

In 1978, high school student Dianne Perri, née Uncao, walked into TWH's Employment Services office looking for a summer job. After her family immigrated to Canada from Portugal, she had grown up a stone's throw from TWH on Markham Street. Even before she knew it was a hospital, she told her mother she wanted to work in that "big building with all the windows" that was a fixture in her neighbourhood.

A few streets away in the same community, Alberto Perri was also looking for a new job. He had been working in construction and wanted a change. A friend suggested he drop in at TWH to see what jobs they had available.

"There weren't any resumes back then," laughs Dianne. "You just dropped in and asked if there were any job openings."

That summer, Dianne started working in Housekeeping, covering for staff vacations. As fall approached, she decided to apply for part-time work she could do after school and got a job in Food Services – preparing food not only for patients, but also for staff which was served in the hospital's cafeteria in what's remembered as the "old East Wing."

'The beginning of our lives'

Many a love story is born of chance encounters, and it was around this time that Food Services needed someone to cover for an employee who was on sick leave and hired Alberto, who soon found himself working in the kitchen alongside Dianne. However, Dianne and Alberto's proximity of working in the same department didn't lead to a relationship right away.

"In Food Services, the staff who worked in the cafeteria had the same lunch time and the same breaks and we would all eat and hang out together," explains Dianne.  "That's how it started: we were friends first."

A year went by and Alberto transferred from Food Services to the Biochemistry Department. Then, on Valentine's Day in 1980, Alberto presented Dianne with a bouquet of roses.

Dianne and Alberto Perri on their wedding day
Dianne and Alberto Perri on their wedding day, September 25, 1982. (Photo: Perri family)

"It was such a nice gesture but, for some reason, I wasn't sure that meant he liked me," Dianne says, smiling as she recalls the memory. "But my co-workers knew he did, and they encouraged me to spend some time with him."

Dianne, in her late teens at the time, was from a strict family where dating was frowned upon, so the couple's first date took place at TWH after work. Unfortunately, for another suitor who had been interested in Dianne, the couple hit it off and continued to date.

A couple of years later, and with Dianne now working at TWH full time, they were married on September 25, 1982.

"The beginning of our lives was here," Dianne, 55, says.

The years went by and life continued to bring change in the constant way that it does, both for the Perris, and for TWH.

After a decade with Food Services, Dianne moved on to evening clerking and eventually found her home as a ward clerk in the Intensive and Critical Care Unit where she has worked for the past 27 years.

Alberto, 58, joined the Facilities team as a locksmith and for the past 28 years has taken care of the building's door hardware. They had two sons who also joined the UHN family and both work at Toronto General Hospital. All the while, the hospital evolved and grew around them.

"We've seen buildings like the new East Wing and the Fell Pavilion go up and others come down, lots of renovations, lots of change," says Alberto. "But in all my years it's been very good."

The Perris happily settled into a daily routine of early morning starts since their shifts begin and end within a half hour of each other. But though they work for the same organization, they hardly see each other during the day.

"People assume that we see each other all the time but that's not the case," says Dianne. "We come to work together and we leave together, but that's it. Except for the staff barbeque and Long Service Tea, that's when we make it a date!"

Dianne Perri holding the ‘I’, poses with the Food Services team at TWH
From the archives, Dianne Perri (née Uncao) in 1980, holding the 'I', poses with the Food Services team at TWH. (Photo: Western Hours yearbook, 1980)

As with any marriage, the Perris went through their ups and downs but the love between them continued to grow and strengthen and, along with it, their love and connection to TWH and its people, people they've come to see as family. 

"You don't find a lot of people who love their jobs as much as we do," says Dianne.

"Every job has its challenges but it's what you make of the place," adds Alberto. "And TWH is really a great place to work."

Saying goodbye

As the saying goes, sooner or later all good things come to an end and, after 38 years of dedicated service and recently celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary, Dianne and Alberto know that the time has come to say goodbye to the hospital. October marks the last month at TWH for the Perris as they both retire from their respective departments.

Although they are looking forward to retirement where they plan to travel again to Italy and continue to reach their goal of visiting every province and territory in Canada, they are aware of everything they are leaving behind as they close their shared chapter at TWH.

"I love the job, I'm going to miss the job," says Alberto. "Being here for the patients has meant a lot."

"I'm going to miss my girls in ICU, miss working with the families, miss the routine, miss that good feeling of going to work every day," says Dianne. "But we'll still come to visit TWH and see our friends. And when we eventually get used to being retired, I know it's going to be beautiful."

TWH will continue on as it always has, but now holding another beautiful story told within its walls.

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