Profile By: Benjamin Divis

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Part Four Ferranti Engineers

After Edinburgh, Sheila found work as a lab assistant at Ferranti Engineers. The company gave her the opportunity to return to college to study electrical engineering, but Sheila was not interested. The following year she applied for employment at the Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station in Annan, Scotland’s very first nuclear power plant and one of the oldest in the United Kingdom. It was the beginning of the 1960s by now and the Nuclear Arms Race was in full swing. The entire western world was still on edge from the Russian-made H-bomb in 1953, the launching of Sputnik in 1957, and the continued production and refinement of nuclear weapons on both sides. As one might expect, the application process for Chapelcross was more than a little intrusive. “They told me I needed to take a physical in order to get hired and they did a background check, where they went and asked people who knew me if I was a communist or not!” (Interview). Sheila was even advised to have a beauty mark on her face removed before the physical lest the doctors mistake it for a cancerous growth. She complied, albeit reluctantly. She also signed forms promising on pain of treason not to divulge nuclear secrets she might learn at the plant to outside parties, namely communist spies or affiliates.

Despite such strict rules that might in hindsight seem a little ridiculous, Sheila has fond memories of her time at Chapelcross, where she worked under the title of Assistant Experimental Officer. “I loved it. It was a good place to work” (Interview). She became the secretary of the Burns Club (named after Robert Burns, national poet of Scotland who wrote the words to Auld Lang Syne) and was also a member of the Chapelcross Players, a group that supported various organizations across the world via fundraisers that included song-and-dance performances. Sheila remembers one particular instance of helping raise money to help a poor family in India purchase a cow. “I can’t sing a note but put me in a group with other people and I can do it. We did excerpts from Broadway shows. We had a chorus line. We all kicked!” (Interview). She stayed at Chapelcross for three years before her deep-seated desire to one day experience the world outside Scotland became too strong to ignore.

 

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Part Five Coming to America

Sheila’s nomadic nature was shared by her older sister Jean, who by this time had made multiple trips to Africa as a teacher, first to North Rhodesia (now Zambia) and then with the Royal Air Force to Nairobi. There she had met a Canadian man on a research mission who would one day become her husband and with whom she would set up permanent residence in Saskatchewan. Not to be outdone, Sheila decided she was going to travel to the United States. She had family in Detroit: her mother’s brother, a certain Uncle Sam, and yes, this coincidence came with its fair share of humorous interactions. “People would ask where I was going and I’d say, ‘I’m going to live with Uncle Sam,’ and they’d say, ‘I know, but where?’”

After a tedious immigration process, Sheila landed in New York City