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Nurse, 90, a 'pioneer’ during segregation

Moira Cann, 1930-2021 (File photograph)

A Black nurse who cared for civil rights activist, parliamentarian and doctor EF Gordon on his deathbed has died.

Moira Cann, 90, shielded Dr Gordon from the racist treatment she endured at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital during segregation until his death in 1955 because she did not want to upset him.

She was also one of the founding members of the Continental Society of Bermuda, a charity for disadvantaged young people created in 1962.

Cecille Snaith-Simmons, a former nurse and friend of Ms Cann, said she qualified as a State Registered Nurse, midwife and health visitor who started her training at the Cottage Hospital, Pembroke the island’s first civilian hospital.

Generations of Black nurses were trained there before it closed in 1956.

Ms Cann, aged just 19, travelled alone by ship to Britain in 1948 to further her training.

Ms Snaith-Simmons said: “When she got there, she was surprised to see women bus and train conductors and that the streets were lit by gas lights at night.”

Ms Cann trained at Walsall Manor Hospital near Birmingham, and as a midwife at Mortimer House, followed by Southmead Hospital, both in Bristol.

She got her health visitor qualification at one of Britain’s colleges of technology.

Ms Snaith-Simmons said: “When she returned to Bermuda in 1955, of course, no Black nurses were employed at King Edward Hospital, so she had no job. She took up private nursing.”

But Ms Cann was given special permission to care for Dr Gordon in the hospital, rotating the job with Dr Gordon’s daughter, Marjorie.

They were the first Black nurses allowed to work in KEMH.

The Trinidadian doctor, an early champion of Black nurses after his arrival in Bermuda in 1924, was concerned about Ms Cann’s treatment at the hospital.

She did not tell him that she had to eat her meals in the locker room.

After Dr Gordon died, Ms Cann moved to the United States for better work opportunities.

She was known as the “Belladonna of the Operating Room“ at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx area of New York.

Ms Cann returned to Bermuda after she married a Bermudian, the late Durward Cann, and worked for decades as a health visitor for the Department of Health.

The mother of two volunteered at the Packwood Home for seniors in Somerset, organising activities for the residents after she retired in the early 1990s.

Ms Snaith-Simmons said Ms Cann shared her nursing philosophy with author J. Randolph Williams, who wrote the book Care: 100 Years of Hospital Care in Bermuda.

She told him: “A good nurse is a person who cares about people, is a good listener, has empathy for people and can keep very confidential.”

Moira Valentine Turner Cann, a pioneering nurse during racial segregation in Bermuda, was born on February 14, 1930. She died in January 2021. Ms Cann was 90.

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Published January 15, 2021 at 8:29 am (Updated January 15, 2021 at 8:29 am)

Nurse, 90, a 'pioneer’ during segregation

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