Saturday, January 1, 2011

A salute to Valerie S. Averill, Ph.D.

Some people live lives far too short, yet accomplish so much during their time on earth. Valerie, who died April 16,2010 is one of them. Born Jan. 7, 1959, she was 51.

To colleagues and students left behind, she is Dr. Valerie Averill. To kin, she was daughter, sister, cousin, aunt. And having led such a distinguished and accomplished life, future Averills searching their lineage will see her a shining star and claim kinship with pride. “Yes, I am related. I can trace my family roots to Valerie Averill.”

Valerie was the first and eldest born to Richard and Donna Averill. She grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and every few summers the Seattle Averills would see the Arlington Averills. What I remember from those visits is that as the oldest child in her family, Valerie carried a certain air of authority. She wasn’t bossy, as elder siblings can be sometimes. Valerie commanded respect and exerted leadership, because she so clearly was a leader.

Naturally, as Valerie grew older and established her career, others recognized her leadership qualities too. She was beautiful and strong, --tall and large boned, with a long mane of dark chestnut-colored hair.

As all the Averill kids grew up and travelled our separate ways we would, from time to time, hear news of Valerie. She never married or started a family. She was too busy pursuing education, claiming honors, and conquering new horizons.

She received her masters at Eastern Illinois University. She earned her Ph.D. at Kansas State University, the first Averill to distinguish herself with such high honors in a very educated family. She also settled in Tampa.

At the time Valerie passed, a google of her name produced numerous articles, many of them recounting her activities while still living. Valerie was something of a celebrity in the world of universities and residence halls. Stories reported her latest accomplishments as the National Advisor of NACURH, a position she held for eight years. In 2008, the organization named her Advisor of the Year. And in passing, the Dr. Valerie S. Averill Leadership Development Endowment fund was established in her honor at her alma mater, Eastern Illinois University.

NACURH is a national residence hall student leadership organization and Valerie clearly found it invigorating. Why settle for being eldest sister or mom to a few? She mentored thousands of aspiring young people. Looking at the articles about Valerie, the love and respect her students and colleagues had comes through.

Clearly, she carried throughout her life the same approach and attitude I saw a glimmering of when we were girls -- exerting leadership not through sheer power or force, but through convincing others to put their trust in her capable hands. That is the best kind of leadership.

The last time I saw Valerie was in Seattle, about a year earlier, in 2009. She had flown into town for a conference related to work and took a few hours from her hectic schedule to visit Uncle Bob and Aunt Lu over dinner at Ivars, the local salmon house.

She was full of energy and passion about her career, even as she struggled with various ailments from diabetes. To her, they seemed a nuisance to put up with. She didn't let it slow her down or sour her view of life. Her zest and joy in living was evident and infectious.

Valerie we miss you. Your time was far too short. But your memory will live long among the Averills, and with all the other lives you touched.