When Weta married the handsome Walt Cannon, whom she had met on a blind date, it was on one condition: the couple would move toNew York Cityas soon as possible. She had her eyes on graduate school, a career in public health policy, and a life of world travels. They did move to the Big Apple where Walt built his career with AT&T while she raised their three children. Graduate school was not in the cards for Weta, but she did top off her nursing degree with a bachelor’s degree in education when her youngest son graduated from high school.
Weta’s ambition and determination were instilled in her early youth when her father and most of the other men in Nederland, Texas were off fighting the war. Her mother and all the other women around her were in charge, making all the decisions, working in the defense plants, and paying the bills. It was an unprecedented time of choice and freedom for women in theU.S.and Weta, no doubt, took it for granted. That is, until she became an adult herself in the 50’s and 60’s and discovered that, in reality, women had few choices of their own.
Working as an ER nurse in New York City’s Roosevelt Hospital, Weta got her first dose of the horrific consequences of denying low-income women choice in family planning and healthcare. In the 1960’s when Weta was raising her own children with her husband in New York City, a woman who wanted to end her child–bearing years with a tubal ligation, had to meet the following requirements: bear a minimum of four children first, be at least 35 years old, undergo a psychiatric evaluation, and obtain her husband’s permission. These experiences motivated Weta to learn more about Planned Parenthood and its Center for Family Planning Program Development, known as the Guttmacher Institute, a designated Collaborating Center for Reproductive Health by the World Health Organization. She found herself at ground zero during a seminal time in the family planning and women’s health movement.
Weta’s social consciousness, driving her to participate in peace marches and later National Organization for Women marches, was equally matched by a progressive-thinking husband. Together they lived on a boat for a year, travelled across the U.S. twice over a two-year period, and travelled the world.
Weta, far left, with other volunteers
When they retired to life on Siesta Key in 1989, she volunteered as a clinic escort at the local Planned Parenthood during years when anti-choice protests were particularly vociferous and violent. Until two years ago, she was a regular volunteer in the clinic’s recovery room. Now she takes on whatever job wherever she’s needed.
One glance around Weta’s living room on the 17th floor reveals a gallery of folk art and artifacts gathered from their travels, which took them to many developing countries in Asia and Central andSouth America. On their travels, Weta naturally gravitated to experiences that offered her a window into the nature and challenges of health care in each country. While they did participate in a research program on the Amazon, she regrets not taking advantage of service programs where she might have been able to address issues such as the appalling sex trafficking of women she’d encountered inCambodia,Thailand, andNepal.
Weta with Jan Chester (left)
“I consider my years of volunteering at the Planned Parenthood Clinic my service,” says Weta. “Barbara Zdravecky and Jan Chester (of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida) are miracle workers. We have come a long way in this community, but what we’ve gained is still not secure.”
Now with four granddaughters and one grandson, she is determined to do everything she can to ensure that they will live in a world where everyone has choices. “What we want is universal access to affordable healthcare for men and women. I’ve talked with the men seeking preventative healthcare at the clinic, and they are victims of blocked access and choice as well.”
Weta has come to expect the protesters as she walks into the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Sarasota’s Rosemary District bearing her husband’s name, but it still saddens her. “We all want the same thing, really: healthy lives and children who are loved. Until we can have a dialogue, nothing much is going to change.”
Yet change and making the world a better place is what motivates Weta and other residents who volunteer. “I feel lucky to be living in a community of such vital, caring, and engaged individuals,” she says. “The intensity of everyone’s involvement makes for a rich community experience here at Plymouth Harbor.”