Patti Lawn has, without question, been a longtime supporter and advocate of arts and culture in Chilliwack. It’s something that she’s proud of and considers it her legacy.
As a youngster, Patti and her family lived in the heart of Vancouver. “We moved out to Yarrow when I was four. I guess my parents were looking for something a bit more rural and it was a better life than what the city could offer. It was certainly more affordable and they were able to buy a house here,” she said.
Her father was a gas fitter and he worked hard but with five children in the house, there was never a lot of extra money around. “Mom stayed at home and raised us. I was always a craft person and mom was right in there with me. We weren’t involved in many things because we didn’t have the money so we made our own fun. We made doll houses using shoe boxes and we would do this for hours. I was always creating things with my hands and using my imagination. I then learned how to do needlepoint, how to knit and do crochet,” she enthused.
While her siblings weren’t particularly artistic, Patti obviously inherited a creative gene. “I always remember my mom drawing. She drew a lot and my dad loved singing and used to sing to me all the time. I always loved singing too although I never had the confidence to do it. I do it now and have even done some solos. I guess that’s what the arts do for you; give you confidence,” she smiled, broadly.
From a very early age, Patti always knew that one day she would become a teacher. “There was no kindergarten in Yarrow when I started school so we began at the first grade. I will never forget my teacher. She had coloured chalk and she would take it out and print so neatly. This image always stuck with me. I had a fabulous primary school experience. I was always running classrooms for my siblings and I practiced my printing all of the time. I must have driven them nuts,” she laughed.
In as much as Patti looked forward to teaching one day, she didn’t particularly enjoy school. “I think it was because school didn’t meet my needs. It didn’t feed my artistic side,” she reckoned.
After graduating from Sardis Senior Secondary, Patti began working at Zellers. “I was one of the first employees when they opened. Eventually, I decided to leave and headed off to Calgary and worked at the Bank of Commerce. I found Calgary too cold, though, and came back here and continued working at the bank. At this point, I resolved to become a teacher,” she explained.
She received her teaching degree from SFU and then promptly began her career at Upper Sumas Elementary in Abbotsford. From there, she came to Chilliwack and worked in a variety of elementary school settings including Robertson, Sardis, Unsworth, Central and Yarrow. “I was Vice-Principal at Unsworth and Yarrow before becoming Principal at FG Leary, where I am now,” she said.
Patti has appreciated her role as both teacher and administrator. “You know, as a teacher, I could make a difference and impact the children in my class and maybe a few others but as an administrator; I can be impactful on many more kids.” When Patti started off at FG Leary nine years ago, 140 children attended the school. Today, it is a fine arts school with 338 children. “Developing the school has been a wonderful experience and I am surrounded by creative people every day. How great is that,” she enthused. There is little doubt that Patti has devoted countless hours to the development of quality arts programming in our community and her passion for introducing children to the arts has been an immeasurable asset.
In 1984, her friend, Janet Carroll, introduced her to the Chilliwack Player’s Guild and ever since then, she has been an active member of the group as an actor, producer, director, lighting designer and board member.
Most recently, Patti played a key role in the development of the Chilliwack Arts and Cultural Society. Once the Cultural Centre opened, she became involved as a board member and oversaw the fundraising committee and also went on to serve as Vice President. Currently, she is the society’s President. “My term will soon be ending and I will then remain on the board as Past President,” she said.
Although Patti is one busy lady, she has still found time to launch Bath Scents, a soap making business committed to creating affordable artisanal soaps and bath products that are chemical free. “It’s funny because in school I was into the arts but in making soap from scratch you need to really understand math and science,” she laughed.
Patti is now looking forward to the end of June as the Player’s Guild is once again presenting British Nights at the Cultural Centre. “It is my passion and my love and I have auditioned. I am so looking forward to it,” she laughed.