Thelma Finlayson

Ninety-five-year-old professor emeritus, Thelma Finlayson, commutes to SFU’s Burnaby campus twice a week to help students having academic difficulties.

Still counselling students at 95

July 9, 2009

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Correction Appended

No one is more surprised than Thelma Finlayson that, at age 95, she continues to carry on an active role at SFU, providing special counselling services to students.

"I’m amazingly well for my age," says Finlayson, who officially "retired" from SFU 30 years ago (1979). "It’s wonderful that the university allows me to still be involved."

Friends and colleagues paid tribute to the university’s grande dame during a birthday celebration June 29 at SFU’s Diamond Alumni Centre.

Finlayson no longer drives, but she commutes to the Burnaby campus two afternoons a week to meet with students experiencing academic difficulty.

The sessions "give me something to live for," she says. "It’s good for them to have an empathetic ear. I’ll do that as long as I am able."

Finlayson, an entomologist, helped found the university’s now-defunct pest management centre and graduate program, which she recently sought to revive by establishing an endowment to start the process. Her efforts led to the creation of a new chair in biological control, filled last fall by Jenny Cory, who is known internationally for her research on vascular viruses.

And while the original centre has been dissolved as a separate entity the Master of Pest Management (MPM) program continues, and faculty members within biological sciences are recruiting MPM as well as MSc and PhD students.

"I thought I’d have to die before this could happen," muses Finlayson, who spent nearly 30 years with the federal agriculture department before joining SFU as a teacher and researcher. "The chair will give the program some stability."

Finlayson’s research focused on larval taxonomy, particularly the use of parasites as natural ways of controlling forest and agricultural pests. Her contributions to her field led to two insect species being named for her.

Finlayson was honoured with an honorary degree from SFU in 1996 and a YWCA Woman of Distinction award in 2007. She was a made fellow of the Entomological Society of Canada in 1993 and a member of the Order of Canada in 2005.

Correction: July 14, 2009
The original print version of this story failed to mention that the Master of Pest Management program remained in existence after the dissolution of the now-defunct pest management centre and graduate program as a separate entity.


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