Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mrs Gomez - the person behind the name for Felicita's at UVic

Tonight there will be a vote to change name of the pub in the Student Union Building.   The contest was even called the "Rename Felicita's contest".   The final two names in the running are Felicita's and The Burrow.  As a student I spent too many hours in the pub in the SUB but that space is long gone and in the end it was only a bar.   What I want to write about here is Mrs Gomez, the woman behind the name.

In early 1983 after the first renovation of the Student Union Building at UVic the AMS Board of Directors chose to name the new lounge Felicita's for Felicita Gomez who had been the janitor in the SUB since 1967.

In most buildings the world over the cleaning staff are most often more like part of the furniture than people - they are there but people never notice them or pay any attention to them as people.   Mrs Gomez was never like that because she cared about us in the building, she was also the sort of person you could not ignore.

Those of us at UVic who spent more time in the SUB than going to classes in the 70s and 80s all got to know Mrs Gomez - we all only ever knew her as Mrs Gomez.   She was ever present in the building and she became a part of all of our lives.   She was a stern mother for all of us who were living away from home for the first time.

Over the years she had to put up with a lot of shit from the students - 17-21 year olds are hardly the cleanest and most thoughtful creatures on the planet.   At her retirement party in the fall of 1989 Dave Clode told us the story of her first day in the building and how the crazy kids were almost enough to make her want to walk away after one day but luckily for those of us that got to know her she did not.

Mrs Gomez was as one person put it on Facebook "short and feisty".   She had no time for people with egos, people that were pretentious or people that were stupid.   She also had a way about her that made it clear if you really crossed her you knew she could beat you to into submission with her broom.  Tough the reality was that she simply ignored the people she thought were stupid or pretentious.

There are hundreds of stories about how she influenced the lives of students in those years.   I can add one story.

Mrs Gomez normally did not go out of her way to intervene and tell us students if she thought we were doing something stupid but in my case because she did and it was one of the reasons I ended up married.  In the late fall of 1988 Catherine Novak decided to break up with me.   One morning while Catherine was the DJ at CFUV Mrs Gomez came up into the on-air booth and berated her for making a dumb decision and in her Spanish accent said "Why you make that nice boy so sad?".   Our break up did not last long and quickly lead to marriage - Mrs Gomez was the first person to know we were getting married.   Catherine and I may no longer be married but we remain good friends.

By 1983 she had been such an influence on so many students in that building that the student society board named the new lounge for her.  This is from Eric Hargreaves who was the president of the board at the time:
She certainly did not campaign to have the lounge named after her, and as such was reluctant, but we did it to acknowledge her contribution to the student well being on campus. It was our fun prank to name it using her first name, because everyone knew her as Mrs. Gomez. Her first name also was used to recognize her specifically and uniquely as herself and not by the job or her role as Mrs. Gomez.
Reluctant yes, but touched and pleased in the end. I am sure that she has moved on as most of the people who knew her have moved on. If its time to rename it as reflective of something more current to the students who use it, let them.
I remember it as the subpub back room where many first year pitchers were chugged before they came around  to ID everyone after 4pm. I remember it as Felicita's afterwards. Serious study groups in the late afternoon with a quiet cocktail. More sedate, more stately, more mature. Maybe now it has morphed into something different again.
Mrs Gomez was a post war immigrant from Spain.   Her and her husband lived in Oak Bay and raised their family there.  I met Mrs Gomez again in about 2002 because a friend was renting the house next door to her.   She remembered Catherine and myself.

In our society few things are ever named for average working people, normally things are named for the rich or famous.  The name Felcita's is one of the cases where someone is honoured because of the impact she had on so many lives in her quiet but determined way.  I can understand a desire to change the name because all the students now at UVic were not even born when Mrs Gomez retired.   Those of us that had the privilege to know her are all now in our mid 40s to early 60s in age and she lives in on in our memories.

There is a movement to keep the name as it is.

Tonight the students at UVic will vote on the name for the pub.  It is their building and their right to choose a name that matters to them.  If the name Felicita's wins out in the final vote, I would like it if the UVSS were to put something up in the building so people know why it is named Felicita's.



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