In early October 1950, my sister Carol and I left Chengdu with Clarence Vichert, a WCCU Baptist missionary from Spokane Washington. We were going back to Spokane to resume our schooling which had been interrupted when the CS was closed down.
Connie and Clarence Vichert, and their three boys became our temporary family, and we went through all the adjustments imaginable of leaving our parents and small brother,( not knowing whether we would ever see them again,) coping with the shock of an American culture in the 50’s, new foods, new schools, friends, ‘language’, different cultural norms…..and a new ‘family’. ‘Mish’ kids experience adjustments like these again and again. It’s all part of our unusual growing up experience.
On New Years Day, we received a phone call from Mum and Dad in Hong Kong… After a hair-raising departure from Chengdu, they were safe and sound in the Church Guest House and on their way home via Europe.
In August, of that year, Dad found a position for an Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster B.C. and we moved into an old house just in time for me to begin my grade seven year. Talk about another huge adjustment! It took another four years to develop my own circle of friends, and begin to feel comfortable in my new home
When I graduated from High School, I went on to UBC, and began what would become for me a life-long love affair with knowledge My days at the university were full of interest, relatively carefree and satisfied an insatiable curiosity that I had inherited from both parents. I took a break when I finished my degree and worked with a Christian Youth Organization as a ‘detached’ youth worker. That sparked an interest in working with adolescents which lead me to apply for a scholarship to attend the U of T of Social Work in 1961. I had two marvellous years working toward my MSW, “looking after” university students as resident Don. I met my husband Evan, quite accidentally. He had returned to the U of T to publish his Master’s thesis into a book on University planning. He had completed his Master’s degree in Architecture a couple years previously, and had returned to Australia where he had established a practice.
It was a whirlwind affair, and we were married in August of 1965. Evan established a practice in Toronto in university planning and we had some fun, busy years. Chris was born in Dec 1966, and Ben in January 1969. In October 1968, Evan decided that it was time to ‘go home’ so we left Canada right after Ben was born, and returned to Melbourne Australia. Evan quickly became immersed in establishing and building an architectural practice with his partner Daryl Jackson. Once more I found myself in a new community, without friends or networks to rely on. My early ‘mish kid’ training, came to the fore and I soon had a circle of friends as I made my new home in this interesting city.
Our daughter Rebecca was born in 1973, and when she was four, I went back to work first working as a writer and researcher for a company which published children’s books, then in 1983 as a school Social Worker in the Victorian Education System.
In 1977 Evan left his successful architectural practice and was preselected to take the seat of Melbourne in the Legislative Council in the State of Victoria for the Labor party. In 1982, Labor won government, after 22 years in the wilderness, and Evan was voted Leader of the House. He held many portfolios, including the important one of planning. He remained in government until 1990 when he retired to join the faculty of Architecture, University of Melbourne where he became the Dean of the Faculty. And why are all these details of importance? Because one’s life is irrevocably changed and moulded by the choices one makes in a partner. I was completely involved in both the political life and the academic life, balancing its demands with the demands of motherhood, and my own professional practice. It was great!
Both of us are now retired from very busy, sometimes hectic lives. We have downsized into an apartment, and try and travel once every couple of years to France to visit our second son Benjamin who is an Industrial Designer, and his family in the Loire Valley. Our other son, Chris, lives about an hour’s drive away, on a farming property with his partner and son and works in an architect’s office. Our daughter Rebecca is working with the Sisters of Nazareth as an Australian Volunteer in Bougainville, PNG. She will be there for two years.
It has been an excellent life. I have enjoyed all its swings and roundabouts. The strong and clear ‘service’ ideals instilled in my childhood have served me well, and the ‘Mish kid’ experience has enriched my life without question. I have learned that the relationships with those you meet along the way are very precious and are to be treasured. I am a believer, and I cherish the work of the church with all its warts and failings. And as I grow older, I find myself marvelling at my parents who in the prime of their lives chose to take the ‘road less travelled” to quote Robert Frost. And that of course has made all the difference.
AND WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE OTHER OUTERBRIDGE KIDS…….?
Carol completed her nursing training, and married a doctor, Larry Webster in 1968. She had three children, Louis, Howie and Abi. She and Larry were divorced in 1979 and she has been living near Kamloops B. C. She has chosen to sever her ties with her brother and sister, but from all accounts, she is living a simple but satisfying life, immersed in alternative ways of thinking and living. I miss her.
Kerry completed a primary degree in Science, at UBC, and then went on to study medicine in Melbourne Australia. He married his wife Mary in 1974 in Queensland and they had three children, Tim, Susi and Ben. He practices as an Orthopaedic Surgeon (talk about son following father) in Brisbane Queensland, Australia. We see each other regularly. In 1986 he, Evan and I accompanied my father, Ralph, back to Chengdu to deliver a number of lectures to students at the West China University of Medical Sciences. We visited Dad’s old hospital, and met some of his students who came from far and wide. One of his students, Dr. Ciao had risen to become president of the university. He was known throughout Chengdu for keeping the hospital open during the Cultural Revolution. Dad continued his relationship with West China University of Medical Sciences by supporting students that arrived in Vancouver on exchange, financially and socially until the day he died in August 1990. Mother died from the complications of a stroke in 1984.