Noreen Maynard, 4 Jun 1941 – 24 Dec 2021

My mother may have passed before her time, but she left an enduring legacy of love and kindness

In December, my mother Noreen Maynard passed away unexpectedly from covid. She was tough, tenacious, as stubborn as they come, and one of the kindest people I have known.

She also influenced me and my work more than I suspect she ever realized.

Reflecting on the amazing impact she had (and rarely recognized) through her life, these are the remarks I made as we celebrated her life and mourned her passing:

My mother was many things, but I’m not sure that she would have considered calling herself an “academic” as one of them.

Mum was way too impatient to study obscure topics and write impenetrable papers. She wanted to do stuff, to help people, and to change lives.

And so I suspect that she was both amused and a little bemused that her eldest son ended up becoming a university professor!

And yet, somewhat ironically, I think that if my colleagues had had the pleasure of knowing her, they would have seen her as a kindred spirit.

The school that I’m a part of at Arizona State University has a motto that goes “the future is for everyone.”

I think Mum would have appreciate this as she worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone she met had the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life – especially those who society seems to have forgotten about, who are marginalized and pushed to one side, and who don’t have a voice.

Many of my colleagues work with communities and individuals who are similarly marginalized. And as they do, they talk with reverence about people who advocate fiercely for others; people who are not afraid to stand firm in their beliefs as they stand for those who cannot stand for themselves.

Had they known my mother, they would have probably called her a “fierce woman,” and they would have said it with pride.

They would also have respected how my mother saw the world.

I don’t think it’s a secret that mum had some slightly unconventional ideas. I remember rather fondly her extolling the benefits of wearing colored underwear, and her fears that she’d somehow stunted my emotional growth by buying me white Y fronts as a child! (she didn’t of course).

Admittedly, some of her ideas could be challenging – especially where they seemed to fly in the face of accepted science. And yet, they were all a part of who she was, and what made her so special.

Mum brought a richness to the lives of those she touched because of how she saw and understood the world. She had what my colleagues would call different “ways of knowing” and understanding people. And these were all the more powerful because she didn’t follow convention.

Mum’s “ways of knowing” may have been unconventional, but they brought light and life to the people she touched.

I think my colleagues would have liked her.

But there’s another aspect of who Mum was that is especially personal to me, and one that we’ve heard time and time again from the people whose lives she touched.

My mother was one of the kindest people I know.

I hadn’t fully realized how much of an influence this has had on me until after she passed away.

But looking back, her kindness and her heart for the marginalized and the voiceless have had a deeply profound impact on my work, and how I in turn treat others.

She may not have thought of herself an academic. But my mother made me the academic I am, and hopefully the person I’ll continue to be. She will be deeply missed.

And just for the record, yes, I am wearing colored underwear!

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