Say in ain't so, Flo

Flo Tract has shepherded thousands through the University's residences. / Photo: Claudio Calligaris
Flo Tracy has shepherded thousands through the University's residences. / Photo: Claudio Calligaris

Flo Tracy, McGill’s beloved Director of Residences, retires

By Pascal Zamprelli

Last spring, a McGill intramural hockey team known as the Flo Tracys was getting ready for the last game of what had been up until then a winless season. But there was something special in the air that night. The team rallied for its first victory, finally able to dedicate a win to the woman in the crowd who had inspired their moniker.

But just how do you get a student hockey team named after you?

If you talk to anyone who has worked at, lived in, or knows anything about a McGill residence, they know who Flo Tracy is. Having spent 28 years as Director of Residences, Tracy has become a living legend for many on campus, and for the thousands of students whose lives she has touched.

Now, after 40 years at McGill (she started out as a nurse in McGill’s student health service before moving on to residences), Tracy is retiring, and the McGill community is both celebrating her career and already feeling a sense of loss about the impending departure of a valuable and beloved individual.

“Everything,” answered Tracy before the question “What will you miss most?” is completed. “The people, that’s the big thing. I will certainly miss the relationships. Yet I’m taking with me such beautiful memories that will warm my heart for a long time.”

And she will be sorely missed herself, as evidenced by the events held in her honour last week, including a big send-off where the establishment of the Flo Tracy Community Service Award was announced.

As Director of Residences, Tracy was responsible for maintaining the buildings, which range from “old to very old,” but it is her work with respect to what goes on in those buildings – the “development of the student outside of the classroom” – that came to define her career.

Tracy strove to instill a sense of respect in every student and staff member as soon as they arrived. She mentored countless students over the years, helping them cope with the pressures to succeed and offering valued advice and perspective. “Be productive,” she would tell them, which she doesn’t equate to fast-tracking a degree, but rather to finding ways to “grow and learn and contribute to society.”

Tracy emphasized, though, that there is much the students have taught her as well. “I learned to just be positive,” she said, “because young people aren’t cynical. They’re idealistic, they’re positive, they’re happy, and that rubs off.”

With about 2,700 such idealists a year under her watch, Tracy has learned to become a good listener. “What’s worked for me really is working with the individual – understanding the position that you’re dealing with at the time – understanding the person and understanding the circumstances. It’s about making decisions with integrity, but understanding that there are no set answers.”

After nearly three decades “on the ground” helping shepherd young adults through one of the most uncertain times of their lives, Tracy clearly understands the importance of the job she’s held. She leaves behind tens of thousands of grateful students and a staff that has come to routinely ask themselves, when faced with difficult situations, “What would Flo do?”

On that note, she has a few words of advice for her successor: “Get to know the people that you’re working with as individuals, because then you can understand what their issues are and where they’re coming from.”

And one more thing: “Enjoy the experience.”