The Shirley (Ricketts) Symington Memorial Nursing Award

The Symingtons with their daughter Sarah

It was a January day in one of the remotest corners on Earth and Shirley Symington was in her element.

She, her husband Jim, and their daughter Sarah had sailed from Argentina to the frigid Southern Ocean before disembarking with their fellow tourists at an island off the Antarctic coast. They were soon walking through a colony of thousands of squawking king penguins. The three-foot-tall birds were completely unperturbed by the visitors in bright red parkas.

“Antarctica has incredible wildlife – seals, whales, and birds,” Jim says. “It was a thrill to see them.”

For Shirley – a passionate animal lover – going to Antarctica had been one of her long-held dreams. “She was an adventurous and feisty lady,” Jim explains. Before she passed away on July 13, 2018, Shirley, a retired nurse, and Jim, a retired chartered accountant and financial controller, had travelled throughout the globe. “We’ve been to Antarctica twice as well as Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Arctic,” Jim says, “but Africa and Antarctica were Shirley’s favourite destinations.”

Jim is now honouring Shirley’s bold spirit and her community leadership by establishing the Shirley (Ricketts) Symington Memorial Nursing Award.

“I’d like to leave something for our children, our grandchildren, and the people whose lives she touched to remember her by,” he says.

Shirley’s long nursing career ranged from home visiting and hospital care to teaching and public health. She was also a dedicated Girl Guide leader and an active member of many Thunder Bay organizations.

“She was a very caring person – it showed in her work and how she treated people,” Jim says.

Shirley grew up in London, Ontario, and met her future husband while they were both working in Toronto. Jim was sharing an apartment with two friends and Shirley was living on the same floor with two roommates as well.

“One evening we were having a party and we needed a cup of gin,” Jim recalls. “I asked my roommates to borrow some.”

They knocked on all the doors along the corridor before reaching Shirley’s place. Fortunately, she had some gin to spare and a lifelong partnership was born. After they had children, Shirley and Jim moved to Thunder Bay – Jim was originally from Northwestern Ontario and they thought it would be a good place to raise a family. It didn’t take long for the couple to become vital members of the community.

Jim and Shirley Symington at their home in Thunder BayShirley and Jim Symington’s commitment to their hometown prompted them to become generous Lakehead University supporters. They have donated to multiple awards and bursaries because

“Lakehead allows a lot more young people in this area to get an excellent postsecondary education,” Jim says. “Many of my classmates couldn’t afford university even though they had the ability.”


Pictured above:  Shirley and Jim Symington enjoy a summer afternoon at their home in Thunder Bay.

The new Shirley (Ricketts) Symington Memorial Nursing Award will be given to a fourth-year nursing student from Northwestern Ontario with demonstrated financial need to assist with the travel costs of an international clinical placement.

“When the School of Nursing told me about their overseas clinical program,” Jim says, “I thought it would be a good idea to help a student nurse see life from a different perspective and get their clinical training at the same time – and it epitomizes who Shirley was. She would be very proud of this award.”


If you would like to support Lakehead University, please contact External Relations Gift and Database Administrator at 807-343-8010 ext. 8194 or by email at for more information.