Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Conversation With...Pauline "Polly" Ferdinand

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

For the first time in 30 years of writing for The Oxford Journal, Westchester’s correspondent finds herself on the other side of the pen and notepad. 
“It’s surprising to realize I’m so close to the very last report I’ll ever be sending in,” says Polly Ferdinand on November 8, ten days before she moves away. 
Polly arrived in Westchester in 1974 after her husband, Winston, retired from the military and  began submitting  news about the Westchester Firefighters Ladies Auxiliary in 1983. 
“I said when I am all through work – I worked at the Lady Wentworth – when I’m all through work, I’ll consider it,” Polly says about the Journal’s repeated request for her to cover community news. “Well, if they didn’t up and close the Lady Wentworth. So that’s how I became a correspondent.”
That was in 1989.

Note the photo of Polly in her Leading Air Woman uniform on the left.
The gregarious 77-year-old says what she enjoyed most about being the correspondent was meeting people from all over. 
“The people that I’ve met have been fantastic. I’ve been a greeter at the Westchester Pancake Supper for 30 years,” she says. “One year, this lady walked past me and she had an accent. I remembered how she was dressed so when she came back through, I said, ‘Excuse me, would you please tell me where you’re from?’ ‘Down under,’ she said. She was visiting people in Halifax and they asked if she’d ever been to a pancake supper. They were coming to Westchester and we were her very first pancakes.” 
When she tells me she is originally from Ontario, we discover we have a common connection in Trenton -- that’s where she met her husband. 
“I was in the military for five years on my own. I was a teletype operator,” Polly explains. “That’s how I met my husband. I was working at the counter [at CFB Trenton] and a bunch of boys had been transferred from St. Hubert, Quebec. The only way you could come into the Airwomen’s Mess is if you were sponsored by someone. Because I was working and hadn’t sponsored anyone, they asked if I would sponsor that airman over there. All I did was look at my future husband – not knowing he was my future – and said Okay. But I said, ‘He has to understand that when I’m off work at ten o’clock, he leaves, too.’ I finished my shift and went over to tell him and he said the least I could do was sit down and talk. He was just another airman.”
It took three years for the two of them to get serious, a case of “two strong personalities trying to mesh,” Polly says (both are the second of five siblings). They married in 1954 and their son was born in 1960.  
“In those years, if you had a child, you had to take your release,” Polly says.
Born in Almonte, outside of Ottawa, the military is in her blood.
“My father was in the military, my uncle was in the military. When we would have the gatherings, so many relatives were in the military. My son. And  now my grandson is stationed at CFB Shearwater flying on the Sea Kings so the tradition has kept on going.”
Because her family lived under the fly path for planes heading to the Maritimes, Polly says she grew up wanting to fly in them. 
“The air force has always been there. Army was our family but the air force – I guess it was because of the aircraft. And I married an airman.”
When she and Winston and Kevin, then 14, moved to the Ferdinand home in Westchester, she had to learn to call her husband by another name. 
“He was always called Ferd because in the military, everyone had a nickname. His family called him Wint. I came east and people were talking about Winston and Wint – but vice versa, they’d say ‘Who’s Ferd?’ Civvie Street was Wint and military was Ferd. At home [Ontario], I’m Pauline. When I joined the military, I had to have a nickname. I became Polly through the military but no one knows me here as Pauline.”
Polly’s secret to becoming part of the community is simple: Get involved. 
“I joined the Westchester Women’s Club and was a part of it for seven years. I’ve been in the Westchester Firefighters Ladies Auxiliary for 31 years. So all together I’ve been part of a group for 38 of my 39 years. Thank goodness for these organizations because they keep the community prospering. You form bonds that last forever.”
As a member of the military then as the wife of an airman, Polly has lived in St. Jean, QC, Aylmer and Trenton, ON, Greenwood, NS, and Summerside, PE. Yet she was happy to live in rural Nova Scotia for 39 years (her husband warned her when they married that he wouldn’t live anywhere else). 
Winston died in 2007 but it was her sister’s death this past fall that precipitated a major change in Polly’s life. 
Her sister Joan left the entire contents of her  household to Polly and paid the rent and utilities on her apartment in Almonte to ensure that Polly could move from her home in Westchester without having to worry about moving any furniture. 
“My family wants me up there,” says Polly. “I’ve been working on this since the 8th of October and I’m moving on the 19th of November. And believe you me, every day, there’s nothing boring. I never know what anyone’s going to say to me.” 
She takes a deep breath, lets it out in a sigh. This tough air woman is trying to hold it together.
“Emotionally, this is a hard thing to do,” she admits.
At the time of our conversation, she’s facing all the ‘last of...’ moments that come with leaving a community after nearly four decades.
“My two nieces were here the other day with their hubbies and I had two bottles of jam left, the very last two I was ever going to make so I gave it to them. Those are the very last maple tarts I’m ever going to make.”
The Oxford Journal staff has enjoyed its  share of them. 
Polly, our thanks for all the news and baked goods you’ve shared over the past 30 years. You’ve touched many lives in Cumberland County and we wish you all the best on the rest of your life’s amazing adventure. 


  1. Such a wonderful lady,always cheerful,helpful and giving.Will miss Polly.If anyone has her e-mail address, I would appreciate having
    it so we can send her a note.
    The suppers will not be the same without her.
    Murray Scott

  2. Hi, Murray,
    thanks for your comment. We have Polly's email at the Journal office and I'll get it for you next week (April 7). We miss her too!