‘I care for this building like it’s my home because I’m treated like family’

A smiling Stacy Smith in her uniform, sitting outdoors

Custodian Stacey Smith has taken care of the Psychology Building — and the people in it — for 32 years.

If you want to stump Stacey Smith, don’t ask her to name everyone who works in the Psychology Building. She’ll do it. And she’ll tell you how long they’ve worked there.

You could try asking about the number of classrooms in the building. Or labs. Or offices, washrooms and entrances. But she knows those answers, too.

No, if you want to stump Smith, here’s what you need to ask: What does she enjoy least about her job?

After a long silence, she’ll eventually tell you she doesn’t have an answer.

“I love my job. I honestly do. It’s never felt like work. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

And there’ve been a lot of minutes: Smith has worked as a custodian in the Psychology Building for 32 years.

She started working at McMaster in the late 1980s. Her sister, who worked in security, said the university was desperate to hire custodians. Smith, who’d been working full-time as a stay-at-home mom, went in for an interview and was hired on the spot.

Since then, except for the time she had shoulder surgery, Smith hasn’t missed a shift.

She worked through the pandemic. With fellow custodian Mirjana Celic — they’ve worked together for 21 years — she was among the few allowed in the building.

“It was a trying time,” Smith says. “We did whatever we could for faculty and staff who were still at home.”

Smith and Celic have held on to a tradition they began during the pandemic: “Each week, we pick a big cleaning project that’s above and beyond our day-to-day tasks.”

17,000 steps a day

Smith arrives just after 5 a.m. to plan her day and prep for the start of her shift at 6 a.m. Together with Celic, she makes sure the building’s spotless and ready for the first classes of the day.

When her shift ends at 2:30 p.m., she’s clocked at least 17,000 steps. “This job requires a lot of energy.”

Only one person in the building has more seniority than Smith, who just turned 60 and doesn’t want to talk about retirement.

“Everyone I started working with has retired. And I clean the offices of some professors who I remember seeing around the halls as first-year students.”

Ask her to spill the tea on which faculty and staff have the messiest offices and she’ll tell you no one does. “I’ve trained them well.”

And students today are far more conscientious and respectful than when she started out as a custodian, Smith says.

“If they accidentally spill a coffee, they’re so apologetic. I tell them not to worry. Students are the reason why we’re all here.”

An unsung hero

What’s kept her working in the Psychology Building for more than three decades?

“Respect,” she says. “Mirjana and I are invited to all the department functions and celebrations. The faculty and staff here treat us the same as their colleagues. Everyone knows us by name. There are lots of buildings where that’s not the case. I care for this building like it’s my home because I’m treated like family.”

The department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior has been lucky to have Smith looking after their 50-year-old building for more than three decades, says Milica Pavlica, the Academic Department Manager.

“Stacey’s such a dedicated, caring and hardworking person,” says Pavlica, who has worked in the department herself for nearly 25 years. “Stacey’s definitely one of our unsung heroes.”

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