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Eulogy for Laurine Harrison
June 26, 2007

Part II
by Sarah Dench


Being asked to speak today feels like a huge responsibility. How do we really do justice to such a remarkable person, and how do we capture the loss we feel at the passing of Laurine, whom we love so much?

Like Rob, I met Laurine about 20 years ago, and through the Student Society. Sue and I were both grad students and we had just become involved in the formation of the Graduate Issues Committee at SFU. Laurine was the SFSS staff person who volunteered to work with the group, and she was crucial to us becoming an effective voice. And as Rob said, she was pretty guarded at the time, which I initially attributed to her trying to figure out how to work with a group of brash and arrogant grad students who thought they knew everything.

It became clear pretty quickly that we knew very little about how the university really worked, and that if we wanted to make any kind of impact, we had better listen carefully to Laurine. Some of us figured out that she was a sort of guardian and mentor for students, and she made us look much smarter than we really were.

In working with her in that early time, I slowly came to know Laurine as a friend, and when she decided you were going to be her friend, there was a slow unfolding of her personal life and deeper nature, much akin to the blossoming of a lovely flower. I learned about her anxiety in working with grad students when she had not had the opportunity due to economic circumstances, to progress far in a degree, and I think her "coming out" to me about that was, to Laurine, a much greater leap of faith in me than anything else she ever told me.

I was also close to Sue, and having met her before Laurine, at the time I knew Sue better. So I know the other side of the story of their meeting. Sue too was at the bad end of a relationship, and like Rob was for Laurine, I was concerned that Sue had jumped too quickly into a new relationship. However, it quickly became clear that lightening had struck and this new love was very, very special for both Sue and Laurine. They had each found their true heart in the other, and while I was a bit in shock at the speed at which this had happened and right under my nose, I very quickly came to see this was meant to be. We should all be so lucky.

In my life, they became "SueandLaurine", a wonderful blended gestalt of friendship and love, always there when I needed them, and over the years whether we got together or kept in touch by phone and email, they were a pillar in my life, as I know they have been for many of us here today.

As Sue progressed through her graduate work and into faculty life, Laurine and I shared a path working with students and university processes and procedures. She became the Ombudsperson not long after I left SFU, and that began a ongoing and rich dialogue over the years; discussions about the ups and downs of university life for students, the interplay of rights and responsibilities, how our "perfect" university might work, and also the joy of Nuevo flamenco, where to find the best olive oil and sausages, and the fun of browsing at Lee Valley Tools.

Coming back to SFU 7 years ago, I was thrilled to be working again with Laurine, albeit on supposedly different sides of the table. But then here's the thing; as I know was true for many of us who worked with Laurine, we never really were on different sides, we both knew that we wanted the university to do the "right" thing. I think what captures that best is the following piece, written by Jon Driver, the Dean of Graduate Studies at SFU, who couldn't be here today.

First, as generations of students can testify, she believed that everyone deserved to be cared for. She cared deeply for people, and especially for those whose lives were not going very well. Laurine experienced more than her share of quirky behaviours from her clients, behaviours that would be enough to try the patience of most of us. Laurine saw past these behaviours to the troubled individual, who was more often than not undergoing a serious personal crisis, and she did everything in her power to help that person. Sometimes this meant intervening on their behalf, sometimes helping them help themselves, and sometimes just getting them to acknowledge a reality that they didn't want to face. To do this required the ability to listen sympathetically, to try different approaches, and to never stop hoping that something could be done. Her quiet persistence paid off many times, although I'm not sure that all of her clients recognized how much she had done for them or how skillfully she had done it.

The second principle that I found so admirable in Laurine was her insistence that we were there to do the right thing. Her job was to help students advocate for themselves, but she firmly believed that doing the right thing was more important than winning a case. She had a wonderful way of gently reminding university administrators that they were also there to do the right thing, even if it meant more time, more documentation, more meetings, and sometimes an outcome that might not please a department or an individual. She paid close attention to principles of natural justice, and encouraged people in positions of power to examine their decision-making processes carefully.

Laurine worked on behalf of students and was a staff member of the student society. However, her strong principles made her a valued colleague of university administrators. I knew that she would do her very best for every student, but I also knew that she would deal with me with absolute honesty. I valued her advice on individual cases, but she also provided excellent counsel on the development of policies that would affect students. The principles of caring and justice ran through everything she did, and the University is a poorer place for her passing.

This past 10 days, I have spoken to many people at SFU, all of us in shock at Laurine's sudden passing. The depth of the sadness and sense of loss we all feel is both professional and personal; knowing and working with Laurine simply made us better; better faculty, better administrators, better advocates for doing the right thing. Laurine was a leader, a quiet leader who led by example in everything she did. Her fairness, integrity, and her moral compass we all relied on.

What abides with me this past week and now is recalling Laurine's deep compassion, her curiosity, her wry humour, her love for her family and friends, and her quiet strength. What I think gives all of us comfort is knowing that she had such a huge impact on so many, and it is a legacy we can all be inspired by.

It is one of those interesting things about the way the world works that a pair of eagles recently took up residence in the trees next to Sue and Laurine's home. In Coast Salish traditions, eagles are symbols of leadership, friendship and peace. Laurine felt a deep connection to the natural world and to the First Nations students she assisted, and she felt very lucky that these eagles had honoured her home. As I know Sue does, I feel incredibly lucky that Laurine honoured my life with her wisdom, her love, and her friendship. We will miss her always.


Read Part I of the Eulogy