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Helpers: This Alzheimer volunteer has a simple message, ‘Just go out and try it!’

‘It’s so important to treat someone with Alzheimer’s with understanding, respect and patience. Be a friend. Be an advocate’
Marlene Douglas has been a longtime volunteer with the Alzheimer Society. She has a simply message for those thinking about volunteering: Just go out and try it.

When Marlene Douglas applied for a job as a stenographer with the City of Greater Sudbury, she had no idea it would blossom into a rewarding 30-year career. She also didn’t realize that her efforts would help create positive change within her profession.

In 1971, Douglas relocated home to Sudbury from a two-year stint with Inco’s Manitoba Division, where her job in public affairs involved hosting a radio show to welcome new workers and their families to Thompson. She also participated in site tours and contributed to a magazine for the mining company.

With the City of Greater Sudbury, she enjoyed a storied career. Douglas initially worked as a recording secretary in the Clerk’s Department, then progressed to the role of secretary to the city engineer. Her next move was to Emergency and Corporate Services and then she served as administrative assistant to the CAO until retirement in 2000.

“I loved working at the city,” Douglas said. “We witnessed a lot of change and restructuring in municipal government over the years.” 

It was also an exciting time with much opportunity to hone her administrative skills with each promotion. During her career, Douglas was determined to effect a change in attitude about the image of a secretary. 

“I was a secretary who was proud of my profession and I wanted to tell the world we’re important people, too.” 

Her first step was to become a member of Professional Secretaries International (PSI).

In 1982, she chartered a Sudbury chapter. 

“We had a lot of work to do at that time to erase the stigma of what a secretary does. There is a lot more to the profession than people realize,” she said. 

Her goal was to build public awareness of the highly skilled role of the secretary. Her dedication to that mission led her to hold various positions with PSI, including local president and president of the Ontario division. 

Soon after earning designation as a Certified Professional Secretary, Marlene was invited to address the organization’s international convention in New York state. She enlightened participants about PSI’s structure in Canada and how working together on projects and mentoring students and young professionals would bring more synergy to the organization.

Once she retired, Douglas knew she couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing. She tried retail work, but didn’t particularly like it. Then she discovered another passion – an intrinsically rewarding career as a volunteer with the Alzheimer Society. 

A not-for-profit dedicated to providing essential programs and support services to those living with dementia, as well as to their families and caregivers, it was the perfect choice. 

“My dad and stepfather were both clients, and so I was already very familiar,” she said. “I wanted to give back to them for giving so much to our family.”

She describes her first day with the Alzheimer Society of Sudbury-Manitoulin. 

“I walked in the door and offered my time and talents. The person in charge said, ‘Great, when can you start?’ I told her I could start now, but I’d have to bring my mother home first — she’s waiting for me in the car.” 

That was almost 13 years ago, and Douglas has enjoyed working with a great team of caring professionals and getting to know the clients they serve so compassionately.

Her experience and skills have been put to good use. Over the years, she has handled a variety of clerical and administrative tasks, as well as reception duties. Currently, her primary role is receiving and receipting donations from a broad district. 

“Our region extends from Sudbury to Manitoulin Island to North Bay and all communities in between.” 

She also gets involved in the annual Walk for Alzheimer’s, the Coffee Break fundraiser and the annual Wine, Women and Purses event.

Société Alzheimer Society offers everything from medical assessments to counselling, support groups, a learning series and training for caregivers. Their library contains literature, videos and resources that are helpful tools for clients and their loved ones. 

“Our day programs are truly amazing,” Douglas said, who often visits clients there. “It’s so important to treat someone with Alzheimer’s with understanding, respect and patience. Be a friend. Be an advocate.”

The Alzheimer Society holds a special place in Douglas’ heart, and the organization is lucky to have such a dedicated, longstanding volunteer. She is by her own admission a people person, and that positive attitude resonates in her credo “Never give up!” 

Volunteer Words of Wisdom

Marlene’s words of wisdom: “If you have talents to offer (and everybody does) get out there and volunteer your skills. Helping others who need it makes a big difference in their lives and enhances the quality of your own life, too.”

As a longstanding advocate for volunteering, Marlene says: “If you haven’t volunteered, just go out and try it. At the end of the day, you’ll be very fulfilled and very happy.”

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to

Helpers articles share stories related to volunteerism in Greater Sudbury. This section is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


About the Author: Marlene Holkko Moore

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