On a sunny day, you might spot Lorna Snetsinger, hair streaming in the breeze in her navy-blue convertible, headed north, enjoying the weather and the scenery.
Two things stand out with Snetsinger: a lover of cars and clothes, she’s striking in her convertible whether she’s in jeans or Versace. She’s also fierce and has been known to jump into someone else’s car and rock it out of a snowbank when it blocked her way. Nobody puts Snetsinger in a corner. Or in the slow lane.
Will today’s attire be the off-the-shoulder red sheath or the houndstooth skinny pants? Combine Lorna Snetsinger’s love of cars and driving with her stunning wardrobe sense, and she’s the full package. Today, in her baseball cap and oversized sunglasses, she’s careful not to speed in her grey 2012 Mercedes-Benz E 350 coupe (she also drives a navy 2016 SL 550 convertible). Tickets are an expensive waste of money.
Her fashionista presence makes others feel good, too. When she’s in her summer convertible, red leather coat perfectly complementing the dazzling navy Mercedes, people smile, look inside, and wave.
She brightens the day of neighbours and passersby, but she gives the biggest glow to people she helps in her profession. Snetsinger is a public health nurse, an essential worker, currently based at a major Toronto hospital. Being a public health nurse could mean a full roster of home care patients to see, driving around the city sporting a toolbelt filled with bandages and medicines. Going the extra mile in Snetsinger’s case has even included digging out a hospital bed of her own from deep in her garage to help a family. Currently, she wears a plastic eye shield and N95 mask as she makes sure patients leaving the emergency department have whatever support they need at home.
“Patients might require personal support workers and a wheelchair,” she points out. “If they need to be accompanied to get home in a taxi, I’ll do that.”
Being behind the wheel herself is more her custom though: Snetsinger is a car aficionado, after all. She has memories of Toronto car rallies where she proudly drove the first car she purchased, a Mustang “the colour of baby diarrhea with a lime-green roof.” During those events in the 1970’s, “I was the only female driver,” she notes, “and the guys called my vehicle the yank tank.”
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She learned how to handle a vehicle the hard way, by working on a combine harvester. This isn’t the easiest way to learn, but Snetsinger’s always been fearless. At the age of 13, she was operating a giant red Massey Ferguson machine on the family farm near Thamesford, Ont. A skinny teen wearing a hat, she didn’t arouse attention till lunchtime when people realized, as she let down her hair, that she was a she and her status was changed to server of tea. “I’ve never been interested in kitchen work, but I’ve loved driving forever,” she says.
Her love of cars was bred into her. “My mother’s father owned a Chrysler dealership. Every year, we got a new car, my mother on one year, my dad on the next. When I was in nursing school, my dad loaned me his Oldsmobile 98 and when I graduated, I became the proud owner of the Mustang.”
In those days, she did some of the maintenance work on her cars herself. “I used to hit the carburetor with my shoe and it would work,” she laughs.
At the car rallies, the other participants were all male and their cars of choice were predominantly BMWs, so Snetsinger bought one herself. “It was a sporty four on the floor and I liked the brand. I drove mine for years and replaced it as needed. Then a patient who was a car jockey told me he thought the quality was better with the Mercedes, so I switched and I’ve been happy.
“So happy that a couple years ago, I saved up and treated myself to a navy-blue convertible 550SL for summers,” she says. This definitely makes her smile and puts a happy face on people she meets. “Everyone admires the car and it’s unexpected to see a woman with white hair at the wheel,” she says. “Everyone says they salute me!”
“Driving is an adventure,” Snetsinger says. “In the spring, with the windows rolled down, I can smell the beautiful blossoms driving by the Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Even late at night, it’s a good experience with the radio keeping me company.”
Snetsinger almost lost the ability to drive when she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. “I was paralyzed head to toe on a respirator. They didn’t think I would ever walk,” she recalls. “I was in hospital and rehab two months each and couldn’t drive for six months. I had a brand-new car in my driveway that I had hardly driven when I took sick. The Mercedes-Benz staff took turns driving it occasionally so it didn’t have to sit all those months in one spot.” With medical care and her own perseverance, Snetsinger recovered and got back on the road.
Her most frequent passenger is Winthrop, a miniature Italian Greyhound and Chihuahua mix rescue dog, also the raison d’être for her many jaunts around her Bloor and Avenue Road neighbourhood in Toronto. Like her, Winthrop is slim and stylish and he adds just that extra bit of flair to her excursions. In fact, she’s known in the ’hood as “the lady with the little white dog.” He may sport a seasonal jacket and tiny booties, but he’s more than an ornament. He’s the love of her life and rides shotgun in both of her cars with his own custom seat, lined in sheepskin for maximum comfort and in the winter, warmth.
These days, Snetsinger does a lot of driving. She has a place in Prince Edward County and spends large chunks of time there when she’s not making sure patients are sent off properly at the hospital. That’s where she’s highly visible, white hair flying, Winthrop at her side, tootling around for groceries or special fish and chips made from fish caught right by her country spot.
And in “the County” is where an additional side of Snetsinger can be seen. Reminiscent of her farm days, Snetsinger likes to get her hands dirty, working in the garden, cutting grass, or pulling weeds. She has another vehicle there, too, a fully seated tractor mower.
You might also see her proudly indulging in her latest hobby: paddle-boarding. This new passion began as an experiment on a friend’s board, but proved so exhilarating that now, after a couple successful seasons, it’s a summer mainstay.
Snetsinger’s had many memorable driving experiences, including getting let off a speeding ticket on her way to see the Grateful Dead in a purple tie-dye outfit back in the ’70s. Today, in her oversized sunglasses, she’s much more careful in her Mercedes cars. In the passenger seat? Her dog Winthrop, as slim and stylish as Snetsinger herself. In the trunk? Medical supplies and groceries for this hard-working medical professional.