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LISA SEYMOUR

In Memory of Lisa Seymour

July 29, 1960 - March 26, 2021

To be Lisa’s chosen family was to be welcomed in, with open arms, to the greatest and least exclusive club on earth.

 

Lisa was a lifelong feminist, labour unionist, activist, advocate, teacher and social worker; funny, fun, fair-minded and fierce.

 

Lisa had no shortage of love: she gave it freely. She devoted herself to the service of others. She gave of herself without hesitation, personally and professionally.

 

She was a marriage of contradictions: idealistic and hopeful, yet realistic and savvy. Hardworking yet fun. The definition of the personal is political.

 

She lived a full life, brimming with affection, adventure, accomplishment, and of course, the companionship of all of us who loved her dearly.

 

Lisa was a natural storyteller since childhood. And now we try to piece together a little of Lisa’s story, so we can share in it together.

 

Growing Up

As a child, Lisa was already larger than life, a true friend.

 

She was best friends with her neighbour. Their kitchen windows faced each other, and the two would dance together while they did the dishes.

 

These early performances set the stage for what was to come for Lisa. Lisa always loved to have fun. But she was also a born advocate.

 

Lisa’s passion for justice was ignited in childhood, in Woodstock, raised in a household steeped in the values and action of the labour movement. From a young age, Lisa’s parents taught her the importance of equity and fairness, and she spoke of her parents with great reverence, pride and affection when she relayed stories of them. It was evident that she and her parents had a very close bond.

 

Lisa was a person-centered feminist even in her teens, working in the grassroots of the shelter movement of the 70s. When high school friends were working at McDonald's and Becker's, Lisa was organizing, writing arts grants, and pulling shifts at the local women's shelter.

 

We can only imagine the sort of compassion and care Lisa gave women and families, since her commitment to confidentiality was legendary. But we can imagine young Lisa, welcoming them with the same warmth she gave each of us. We can picture this budding activist, blonde curls bouncing as she showed a family around the shelter, ready with a hug or a kind word or to sit in silence with someone on the hardest day of their life.

 

A person never felt obligated or guilty in Lisa’s presence.  She wouldn’t preach, yet somehow, you’d get swept up in Lisa’s passion for change, and you’d be changed by her. You’d pick up a sign, snap on a button, and add your voice to the causes that mattered. You’d join her in the fight to raise up the vulnerable, amplify voices of those who were ignored, and demand change.

 

Lisa was balancing her commitment to hard work with her love of fun even in youth. She was on a mission to change the world, and she also threw herself fully into fun, pulling her delighted friends along with her. She was the life of the party, your loud friend, the unwavering extravert. She’d turn up the music, dance, laugh, joke, sing along.

Becoming a Counsellor: University Years

Lisa received her Bachelor of Social Work from King’s College, Western (1984). In her early career as a social worker, Lisa built herself a community of colleagues who became her friends in her work at Woodstock Hospital, London Psychiatric Hospital, and Interval House in Hamilton. Lisa brought a feminist lens to each position.

 

Lisa then began her coursework for her Master of Social Work at University of Manitoba. After finishing her classes, she returned to Ontario, where she worked at Family Service London, deepening her friendships with a group of treasured professionals.

 

Lisa was admired by her colleagues for her phenomenal, dynamic group facilitation skills. Working primarily with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, she had a remarkable gift of meeting others where they were at, finding a point of connection with anyone, and coaxing people out of their shells. Even more importantly, she was just so genuinely interested in what her group members had to say.

 

Put simply, she paid attention and knew how to work the room, inviting whatever people shared and using it to advance the process.

 

This was difficult, painful work. Lisa and her colleagues held onto each other through it, taking time to care for each other, finding the humour when they could. They’d travel together, enjoy dinners out, and built the deep friendships that grow amongst women who are walking alongside each other, fighting for the same cause.

 

In 1996, Lisa completed her Master of Social Work at University of Manitoba, relocating to Winnipeg for the next phase in her career.

Professional Accomplishments

Looking at Lisa’s resume, you’d wonder how she managed to achieve so much, yet still have time to cultivate deep and enduring relationships with so many people.

 

The secret was she just didn’t sleep.

 

You’d come to work in the morning, and there’d be a voicemail on your office phone left by Lisa at 3 am. If she was going on one of her beloved trips to Florida with her parents, she’d pull an all-nighter at work beforehand then just lug her suitcase straight from the office to the airport and hop on the plane.

 

Lisa was easy to work with. She made her colleagues feel comfortable and capable. She made some of her greatest friendships through professional collaboration.

 

Lisa was a trailblazer in Canadian student affairs. She was known across Canada for her innovative programming and her commitment to students. She made friends at every conference she attended, inspiring her colleagues through thoughtful conversation about the profession of student affairs.

 

You might know Lisa as a tenured professor, a counsellor, or through the Identifying Allies or Peers programs. You might have sat with her at UMFA or UMSU meetings. You might have met her as a student visiting the Womyn’s Centre, where she would mentor young feminists, giving them room to grow.

Or you might have just known her as “that nice lady” on campus. Students would seek her out, coming back to the Student Counselling Centre, but not remembering her name. They’d ask for the nice lady – and they always meant Lisa.

 

She was a beacon of light on campus, so generous with her time and her talents. She did a lot of huge things for the University of Manitoba community, but she might have been most proud of the small differences she made, the simple ways she improved someone’s day by simply being kind.

 

It was your lucky day if you caught her in UC for a conversation. The halls of the U of M campus are a little darker without the chance of running into Lisa anymore.

 

Still, Lisa’s influence permeates. Her legacy continues, as the university is staffed with former students of Lisa’s who have gone on to careers across campus.

 

Teaching

Lisa was an award-winning university educator, who taught in the Faculty of Social Work at University of Manitoba, at both the Inner City and Fort Garry campuses.

 

She’d spend hours coming up with creative lessons, meaningful assignments, and ensuring her marking was done with care.

 

Lisa also supervised countless social work students, instilling them with the hard work, practical skills, and devotion to others that was her professional signature.

 

There is a generation of social workers out doing work informed by Lisa’s practice, and their clients are even luckier for it.

 

Identifying Allies: A Safe Space Project

Lisa, with her dear friend Chad Smith, built the Identifying Allies program at University of Manitoba around the year 2000. This was groundbreaking at the time, a first of its kind on campus, and among the first in the country.

 

Lisa and Chad recognized a need to mobilize like-minded people. They envisioned campus as a place populated by safe people and safe spaces. A place for everyone to be themselves, where gender and sexual diversity was acknowledged, respected, and understood. 

 

This project was not without resistance, though many kindred spirits threw their weight behind the program and enthusiastically championed it at the school. As Lisa would put it, homophobia and transphobia are the marinade in which we are all living our lives. It’s our job to disrupt this, educate ourselves, and others.

 

Together with a force of Allies, sometimes with a lack of funding and resources, they built this project from the ground up.

 

Lisa was willing to stick her neck out, to say what needed to be said. She took on the load of this program, on top of her counselling load. It was a labour of love for Lisa. This was a personal fight for her. It was for the people she cared about, which made it for her too.

 

Identifying Allies: A Safe Space Project built a collective capacity that went beyond rainbow stickers on doors on campus; it pushed the needle of progress and made the community a little safer for everyone.

 

Peers: Students Helping Students

The Peers program, though it began before Lisa, was undoubtedly Lisa’s baby, which she nurtured for over twenty years. She reimagined Peers, building an innovative and rigorous peer support program that was life-changing for its volunteers and the contacts who accessed the space.

 

This program brought together natural helpers, who were transformed under Lisa’s patient and careful supervision, as well as the thoughtful model of peer-led training inherent in the program’s design. Students learned the true meaning of empathy, were given room to grow and learn, and were wrapped up in the warmth and support of Lisa and one another.

 

This program’s legacy is immeasurable. The friendships, the professional skills, the personal growth... and sometimes the lovers connected (and eventually, a few babies born).

 

Lisa saw the potential in each Peer in the circle. And she invited the Peers to meet that potential every Monday night.

 

A Legacy of Students

Lisa raised up hundreds, if not thousands, of students and colleagues as an Associate Professor at the Student Counselling Centre, and through the Peers and Identifying Allies programs at the University of Manitoba.

 

In the days before she died, Lisa was still giving of herself and giving to students. With permission, she took the hands of a nursing student who had been caring for her and shone her light on him. She said, “You are so good, you are so kind, I’ve worked with so many students over the years… You will be a great nurse.”

 

If you were taught by Lisa, you’ve felt this feeling. The special message she whispered just to you during a hug at Peers. The proud smile she gave you when you nailed a skill you’d been working on. Her enthusiasm when you made a good point. Her validation when she heard you.

 

Lisa’s probably written more reference letters than any faculty member at University of Manitoba. Her students have gone on to apply Lisa’s training as professionals working across the labour market, but particularly concentrated in helping professions of counselling, healthcare, social work, teaching, student affairs, and broader social service. And of course, personally, as lovers, parents, and friends.

 

Every day, we use the skills Lisa gave us. And the world is better because of it.

 

Books & Storytelling

Lisa’s love of stories extended to a love of reading. Her first job was at the Woodstock Public Library, where part of her work was conducting story time with children – Lisa’s first group facilitation.

 

Over the last few years, Lisa’s book club, The Occasional Readers, has been an uplifting and deeply meaningful space to gather and speak with other women about literature. As amazed as we are about so many aspects of Lisa, we are particularly shocked by her memory. She could spout off names and facts about books she'd read decades before. And this talent extended to pop culture. And of course, to all of us – Lisa would remember something you’d said ages ago and ask you about it years later.

 

Lisa treasured her book club friends, none of whom will ever pick up a book again without thinking about how Lisa would have read it - her unique point of view, her thoughtful questions, or the way she'd read it then suggest that story to just the person who needed it.

 

Being Lisa’s Friend

So many of us saw Lisa’s impact from afar and were drawn towards her.

 

Who is this charismatic, fierce woman? How can I be her friend?

 

And she’d draw you into her orbit without hesitation. She would welcome you with open arms. She would give you the gift of her undivided attention. When Lisa spoke to you, you felt like the most important person in the room. You felt worthy.

 

As we collected messages to share with Lisa while she was in the hospital (140+ in 24 hours!), we were overwhelmed, but not surprised by how many lives Lisa touched. So many people hold Lisa dear. So many people saw Lisa as the first person to value them, to truly listen. She opened up a world of possibility and hope for so many of us, transformed our lives.

 

By loving Lisa, you got an exponential return on that love – from Lisa, but also the other souls she carefully connected you to.

 

She was a connector of people. She knew just who to introduce to whom.

 

Even now, Lisa continues to bring us together, as we reach for each other to mourn this immeasurable loss.

 

Lisa leaves behind an interconnected web of friendships that extends far and wide. We all knew just how much we mattered to Lisa because she was not shy about demonstrating her affections, through her attention, her words and messages, her hugs, or her generous gifts. She leaves countless human companions behind, as well as one feline companion, Gracie, who Lisa loved and who brought Lisa so much joy. And before Gracie, there was Furby, another beloved cat friend.

 

Even if it might have been a while since you talked to Lisa, the minute you’d reconnect, you’d pick right up where you’d left off, like no time had passed. Lisa’s friendship was in technicolour. She was loyal, she made you feel valued, she would make you laugh until you cried.

 

Lisa embodied her emotions. She would cry in a heartbeat. She would laugh. She was genuine and transparent. And she gave us all the courage to be a little more real, a little more vulnerable too.

 

Family and Chosen Family

Lisa is survived by her parents, Pauline and Phil, uncles Herb Oldford (Wanda) and Al Seymour (Barb), extended birth family and extensive chosen family - you know who you are.  She was predeceased most recently by her dear friend, Chad Smith, in 2019.

 

Lisa’s family of three were close – they cherished each other. They formed a deeply political and passionate trio. And for Lisa and her dad, this passion extended to baseball. The two cheered on the Blue Jays and Goldeyes countless times.

 

Lisa was also deeply connected to her mother, and her mother’s mother, her nanny. Lisa sprung from strong women (obviously). Her relationship with her mother was more than a mother-daughter bond. It was one of friendship. They’d enjoy plays, bus trips, and Christmases together.

 

Chosen family is a term Lisa used often. It described a feeling she had for many of us who were connected to her. To be family is important, but to be chosen is something just as precious. Lisa always surrounded herself with the love of family, chosen family and friends.

 

Conclusion

Lisa sounds pretty perfect when you read this write up. But we wouldn’t dare romanticize her like that. Lisa was a person and imperfect. And so are we. And just as we loved her in her imperfection, she loved us as we are.

Lisa passed away from cancer on March 26, 2021, at 60 years of age.

As the last chapter of her life progressed, she continued her nurturing and supportive ways, asking after her friends’ accomplishments, worries, struggles, despite her own that we can only imagine. Her sharp, attentive, tender ways sustained her throughout, as she continued to analyze everything around her, enveloping her loved ones with empathy and care.

 

Even in her final hours, Lisa was discussing wages and working conditions with her health care providers. We thank them all for their tender care.

 

The dark irony of this is that all we really want right now is one of Lisa’s hugs. For her to sit with us in this pain, as she was so capable of doing… But of course, we can’t task Lisa with healing this one last hurt.

 

But we can take what we learnt from her and give that to each other.

 

We each carry a little piece of Lisa – she gave freely of herself her entire life. Through her example, she’s shown us how to fiercely advocate, feel deeply, and show compassion.

 

Now there is an abundance of Lisa left, carried by us.

 

We’ve fitted together the pieces of Lisa that a few of us carry, and we know this picture is not complete. Lisa was so much to so many people. Please add to the online celebration of Lisa’s life in the comments on this page and in the Facebook group, Remembering Lisa Seymour.

 

A memorial fund at the University of Manitoba has been set up in Lisa’s name. Please find details on how to donate below. Alternatively, please consider a donation to a local charity that holds meaning to you, to Lisa, or both.

 

Lisa was wise. She was kind. She was a mentor, colleague, teacher, counsellor, social worker, and friend. She was nothing short of magical.

 

There is a magic in the gravity of Lisa’s impact. And while much of that impact came from her immeasurable talent, perseverance, and hard work, at the heart of her achievements was a simple kindness, a simple empathy, a respect for others' journey. And, beyond that, a deep love for others that never dissipated.

 

Through knowing Lisa, and through being affected by her in her life, we will all honour her and take a moment to listen closer, offer a kind word, and just be present for those around us.

 

We will leave you with a poem that Lisa found to be a source of solace and comfort.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.

I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light.  For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.....

Wendell Berry   

 

Donation Information

 

University of Manitoba

http://give.umanitoba.ca/LisaSeymourMemorialfund

Lisa Seymour Memorial Fund

200-137 Innovation Drive

Winnipeg, MB R3T 6B6

Rainbow Resource Centre

https://rainbowresourcecentre.org/donate

170 Scott St

Winnipeg, MB, R3L 0L3

North End Women’s Centre

https://newcentre.org/donate

394 Selkirk Ave.

Winnipeg MB

R2W 2M2

ETHICAL DEATH CARE

Cremation & Life Celebrations

530 St, Mary Avenue - Winnipeg

204-421-5501 - www.ethicaldeathcare.com

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