A labour of love - Bella's story
During Service Recognition Week in October, 824 staff, physicians and volunteers were honoured for reaching career milestones with St. Joseph's. As a 45-year volunteer, Bella Leach was among them. Here is her story.
It's a 30-year-old memory that Bella Leach still finds upsetting. She was a patient at St. Joseph's Hospital and down the hall was a young girl - 14-year-old who had given birth and the baby had died. Bella learned the teen had asked her friend to buy a Cabbage Patch doll dress so that she would have something in which to bury her child.
"That killed me," says Bella remembering the heartbreaking incident. "And that's when I started making the smocks."
It would be the start of a passion. For the next three decades or so, families grieving the loss of newborns at St. Joseph's would receive the comfort and intricate handiwork of Bella Leach, whose exceptional talent and artistry is evident in every stitch of the embroidered linen nighties and matching bonnets. Some were crocheted in soft pastels. All were a labour of love.
Bella would soon expand her reach, creating tiny crocheted, multi-coloured butterflies to adorn incubators of infants unable to survive their early births, finger puppets for young children in hospital, and soft dolls for youngsters to cuddle before and after surgery.
The tireless volunteer actually began her career of giving at St. Joseph’s many years before, in 1968. She started off helping on the inpatient floors, assisting patients with walking, eating or personal care. And with no phones in rooms at the time, she would help them to a pay phone to make a call. “Now you can’t find a pay phone if you needed one,” she laughs.
In the cozy home she built with her husband, Bella’s many talents are displayed in every corner, on every wall, in hutches and on book shelves. The senior is an accomplished artist of many mediums – painted china, stained glass, jewelry making, wood carving, oil painting, embroidery of all kinds, wood refinishing, pottery, silk ribbon card making, upholstery, porcelain dolls, quilt making, spinning, knitting, doll house miniatures, and more. Her home is the finest gift shop where nothing is for sale. That’s because Bella’s heart is in every piece. She can’t part with her creations.
It’s this devotion, and heart, she brought to her volunteer work at St. Joseph’s.
“I love people and I would go miles to help someone,” says Bella, a native of Pain Court near Chatham who lost her mother at age six and worked from a young age. “Everyone needs a little help, a little mothering at some time. I did what I could, and I loved it.”