Pat Coursey

If you hear the name Pat Coursey and aren’t sure whether you have ever met her, it means you have never met Pat Coursey.

Pat, I am pretty certain, would not only approve of what I am about to call her, she is probably going to appreciate it. But if you have any politically correct tendencies please close your eyes before you read the next sentence and move straight to the article I have written about her. Pat Coursey is not only an Up-Stander she is a great broad!

Pat Coursey was born and raised in Regent Park, one of the roughest, toughest neighbourhoods in downtown Toronto. To say there might be folks from other parts of the city who looked down their noses at Regent Park would be an understatement. They wouldn’t dare do that in Pat’s company however.

Pat is not just from that place. She is made of it and proud of it. She grew up as a member of a large family and scraped her way through the early years of her life both for herself and for them. She came by her street smarts and superb networking skills in a rough and tumble place where that was what you needed to do to survive. She was (and is) utterly loyal to her family through thick and thin, has a heart of gold with a tough-guy edge and a real soft spot for the underdog and people down on their luck.

Pat Coursey, Regent Park girl, had been prepared from birth to take on whatever she needed to do to fight for who and what she believed in.

In time, Pat made her way to an entry-level position at the Ministry of Labour in Ontario. When she “retired” from the Ministry, she was in charge of the entire labour inspectorate. For those who may think such career progression was just a normal kind of thing, you’ll need a little more context.

People who began their careers at around the same time Pat did operated in a different world than we do today. We are not talking about your everyday glass ceiling here. It was truly a man’s world, not only in the civil service but also in most establishment institutions. The vast majority of doctors and lawyers were men. You could travel from branch to branch for months and never find a female bank manager anywhere. Police women sat behind dispatch desks or stood in front of filing cabinets and almost all newscasters were males with deep voices.

So if you were Pat Coursey, woman, and you wanted to advance your career in a man’s world such as this, there were things you needed to be sure everyone knew about you. If it needed to get done, it would get done, every time. If the going was tough, the tough got going, every time.

It might take a little maneuvering or artful negotiation, but sometimes the elbows had to come up. Some of her contemporaries, men and women both, didn’t take too well to the sudden blast of air accompanying the Coursey-mobile as it went by and through them.

Little did I know at the time, this was the person I was about to meet when I walked into the office of the Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour (ADM); Pat Coursey, the civil servant directly responsible for workplace inspection and enforcement in the province of Ontario.

I was the father of a 19-year-old son who had recently been killed at work; there to talk about what I might do to help stop this tragedy from happening to other families.

As soon as a serious workplace event occurs, the ADM and every senior person in the ministry are notified immediately. Every time someone died at work, Pat would know about it within minutes. Because of the confidentiality surrounding the investigation processes, unbeknownst to me, Pat likely knew more than I did about why my son had been killed and exactly what had happened.

She knew I was coming to see her and she knew something about why I wanted to talk to her. What I didn’t know before I even opened my mouth was that she had already decided she would do everything in her power to help me.

For one thing, Pat Coursey and all the committed professionals in her Ministry had seen enough emails and phone calls about kids and adults dying at work over the course of their careers. For another, Pat Coursey, Regent Park girl, had been raised in a place where a lot of bad things happen, but where also, the best people would come together in hard times, step up and grind it out together.

I think she believed in me from the first time we met. I think she knew there was a chance that the parents and family of a beautiful 19 year old who had lost his life at work might be able to rally the public at large to a cause it didn’t yet recognize to be so serious.

Bottom line, Pat Coursey was the first real Up-Stander I met on my new mission. She is the person who put me in front of another, Up-Stander, Elizabeth Witmer, the Minister of Labour at the time and now Chair of WSIB.

I won’t chronicle the entire history of what happened over the next 15 years, but I will say it might have taken 30 seconds from the time I heard that she was about to call it a day at the Ministry of Labour to ask her a question. Would she entertain the possibility of applying for the first President’s position at Safe Communities Canada? Safe Communities is the national injury prevention charity I founded in the aftermath of those first meetings.

She did and she won the competition, accepted the job and she has been a part of my life ever since.

There is far too much to tell about all we did together to carry on much further. I hope you understand the essence of this person and what makes her an Up-Stander. Because this is an article and not a book I will conclude this story now with a final observation.

Pat Coursey is a principled person. She never stopped and never will stop at pushing for what she believes in. Along the way I have learned that most people who are compelled to try to get things done don’t often always tiptoe through the tulips without creating a footpath. I include myself in this category. Along the way, we rub some people this way and are loved for it, or rub other people another way and are not so loved for it.

Either way, here is one thing you can count on. You will always know when someone like Pat Coursey has been there. As I wrote in the introduction, if you can’t remember if you’ve ever met Pat Coursey, then you absolutely have not met her.

To you Pat!

Paul Kells

Workplace Respect and Safety Champion, Culture Change Expert and Inspiring Speaker

Reach new standards for safe and positive workplace cultures