I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Linda Pemik recently.
Linda was many things to many people, so I will leave it to others to share their stories, when and if they are able, but I wanted to take some time to reflect upon the ways that her life touched mine.
I first came to know Linda when my wife Hélène and I began our teaching careers in (then) Eskimo Point, Northwest Territories in 1982.
As Linda had done before us, we left the familiar confines of southern Canada and journeyed North to live and learn in this predominantly Inuit community of less than a thousand souls whose homes seemed to fervently cling to the Western shores of Hudson Bay.
This time in our lives was both exciting and daunting. We wanted to fit into this traditional, dry community. We desperately wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children we had come to serve, but with so much to learn, we needed a someone to help us find our way, to be that bridge between the world we knew and a world we wanted to know better. Thankfully for us, Linda Pemik was just such a person.
Linda had begun her northern learning journey years before us. She fell in love and married Paul. She and Paul would raise four children; Kathleen, Pauline, Paul Jr. and Evan, who, along with future grandchildren, were the loves of her life. But I will let others tell those tales.
Hélène and I taught her daughter Kathleen at Kreterklerk School and I became “Uncle Beelo” away from school.
We shared stories and laughed so many times that often our sides hurt. During one meal together I remember Linda recounting the time when her daughter Kathleen innocently wandered into a local church and soon thereafter found herself being immersed in a tub of water as she was unwittingly being baptised. Kathleen eventually came home, soaked to the skin, still wondering what had just happened to her! I can still hear Linda’s heartfelt laughter ringing in my ears as she regaled us with this tale.
Linda loved to sing, which was lucky for us as she had a beautiful, resplendent voice that interpreted a song’s lyrics with a joyous clarion call.
Linda, Hélène and I all shared the proud academic roots of being graduates of Queen’s University. I’m pretty sure that we did a few “Oil Thighs” in sealskin and caribou kamiks (boots), much to the amusement of local Inuit friends and neighbours.
Linda advised Hélène about sewing parkas so they would be Arctic winter-ready, while remaining stylish. She invited us to her home for caribou stew and fresh Arctic Char. She loved to cook and bake on her large, warm black wood burning cook stove. The wonderful aromas that wafted from her home welcomed all and sundry.
Linda was far more than a domestic godess. She was a thoughtful, strong-willed woman who knew her own mind and didn’t suffer fools gladly.
As a new teacher in 1982, I had brought a computer into my grade four classroom and was teaching my students how to code using a programming language call LOGO that was created for children by Dr. Seymour Papert and his colleagues at the world-renowned M.I.T. Media Lab. While my own Superintendent was questioning the use of a computer with my young students, which I have been often told was the first computer in the North, Linda’s natural curiosity and sharp intellect had her regularly asking me questions as to the pedagogical validity of using this tool with her daughter and the other children. She kept me on my toes and I’m so glad she did. By thinking through my responses to her thoughtful questions, I was able to clarify why I had brought a computer to my classroom and what benefits it brought in support of teaching and learning.
After her children were older, Linda began to work for Arctic College. This same sharp mind and ability to professionally seek important answers through critical thinking and analytical questioning skills, laid a strong foundation for her journey as a lifelong learner. In time, Linda became Senior Academic Officer at Nunavut Arctic College.
In 2000, Linda completed a Master’s degree in Adult and Continuing Education and Teaching from the University of Calgary.
She took the EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education course from Alec Couros at the University of Regina. In no small part due to this course, Linda became active on social media and started her own professional blog, “Learning Out in the Open” to which I contributed form time to time.
In 2013 she completed a Professional Certificate in Online Teaching, Higher Education/Higher Education Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I was deeply honoured and humbled when Linda once told me that I was one of Canada’s “Ed-Tech” pioneers and that I was one of her “Ed-Tech” heroes going back to our early days in (then) Eskimo Point.
Linda walked-the-walk of a true, lifelong learner. Her curiosity about the world kept her always looking to the future, her passion for life ensured she was always present with those in her company, her love for family and community kept her grounded with a moral compass that pointed straight and true. Truth be told, Linda was a hero of MINE!
To Paul, Kathleen, Pauline and Paul Jr., Evan and the rest of Linda’s family; no words can heal the deep sense of loss you are feeling, but perhaps it may help a little to know that you are NOT alone in your sorrow. Your mom deeply touched SO many other lives. If it’s true that, “Teachers plant seeds for trees whose shade they will never see“, there are entire forests providing shade because of your mother!
When you are confronted with one of life’s many challenges, take a moment to reflect upon the question, “What would mom do?” The answer will guide you well as you go forward on your own journeys. Please know that she will never be truly gone as long as your hold her in your heart.
Generations Can Connect is a project idea that had it’s roots in an exchange in the spring of 1998 between teacher Bill Belsey and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien at the Government of Canada’s Millennium Projects kick-off event at the Museum of Civilization in Hull Québec. Mr. Belsey shared his vision of a Canadian “National Digital Youth Corps”, in effect young people using digital tools to record the thoughts, memories, stories and artefacts of the nation’s older persons. Seniors being the very living history of our time. Youth and seniors represent true “National Treasures”. Generations Can Connect is the evolution of this vision.
Bill Belsey is interviewed about the Generations CanConnect Project on The Infinite Mind radio program.