2020 Retirees: Kaye Mains

Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2020 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize nurse Kaye Mains.


As a young woman, not quite sure what to do with her life, Kaye Mains just happened to be watching the right TV program at the right time. She came across a show about an English nurse who commandeered a warehouse in Saigon to care for hundreds of abandoned children – Kaye grew up in a churchgoing family and had always wanted to have a life that mattered. She had heard about missions up the Zambezi River in Africa. “I would have hated that. I hate insects,” she said. The show, however, resonated with her and she chose to pursue nursing.

Kaye trained in London, England then went to work in emergency in Oman for two years. Her next stop was Victoria, in 1997, where she worked in hospice before joining the school. Now, 44 years of nursing later, 21 of them with SMUS, Kaye wonders, “Who will I be when I’m not Nurse Kaye?”

“It was like Switzerland,” is how Kaye describes the neutrality of the infirmary because it wasn’t part of boarding or administration or faculty, and it had an open door policy—students didn’t have to be sick to visit. “The most important thing is the kettle. Always ask if they want tea. Here is the kettle, don’t take the lid off because it’s broken – be a good guest – we are not part of the dining hall.”

Kaye was the evening and weekend nurse, attending to the boarders and others. Sometimes the students just needed to sit on the floor and chat. She says the “auntie factor” was vital. “It was so much fun, like having all these wonderful children,” she smiles.

There was much more to Kaye’s interaction and commitment to the kids than her nursing expertise, authentic communication skills and tea. There was also magic. Director of Boarding and Student Life Keith Driscoll alluded to this in his words, “We’ll miss her fairy dust and heart necklaces that made each day a little lighter.”

Kaye had watched a CBS show about an Atlanta artist who installed tiny fairy doors around town. “It made me think of Peter Pan, as you do, and I thought of fairy dust.” Kaye headed straight down to Michaels crafting store to buy the supplies to make her own magical fairy dust. She recalls a young rugby athlete barging into the Health Centre saying, “I need that stuff for my muscles,” before any ‘hello’ or ‘may I please’ or actual details on what hurt. She told him she had something even better than ‘that stuff’ and asked him to stick his arm out. He looked away and offered his outstretched hand. Kaye sprinkled on some of her “fairy dust” a.k.a. rainbow glitter. When he jerked his head to see what she had done, his face split into a massive grin, “I needed that stuff,” he said. There are many students, staff and faculty alike who cherish Kaye’s fairy dust.

And then there are the hearts. Kaye makes polymer clay hearts covered in glitter and over the last three years gifted them at the end of year to certain students. She told them, “You don’t have to wear it, just remember to be a shining light in the world.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaye made 93 fridge magnet hearts for all the houseparents, grounds staff, janitors and others with a note: “This is my thank you for what you do in our community “.

Leaving was a tough decision. Kaye made many important friendships with students and present and past staff and faculty, including Jean Ives and Tony Keble and Dr. Iain Forbes. Past chaplain and close friend June Maffin reminded Kaye, “Love God, love thy neighbour, love yourself,” as they discussed her impending retirement and her conflicting feelings about leaving. Kaye’s not used to just looking after herself.

What’s next? More art, learning and practising Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, more time with her husband and best friend, Randy. Also cooking, though she confesses she’s not very good. “I say I’m channeling Julia Childs and my husband suggests, ‘It’s chemistry darling, maybe ‘channel Julia’ after you’ve tried the recipe a couple of times.’” she laughs. They met diving in Oman, but it was several years later when they found each other again for good.

“Nursing is an immense privilege,” she asserts, sitting on the dry grass atop Mount Tolmie in the sun with her silver heart earrings, necklace, red parasol and matching red shoes. “Oh, and I always dressed up for school. Students need to see older women looking fabulous.”

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