SFU's first Professor Emerita turns 100

June 25, 2014

Simon Fraser University professor emerita Thelma Finlayson, a “trailblazing” entomologist who spent nearly 40 years after retirement advising students, celebrates her 100th birthday on June 29. She will mark the occasion with a party hosted by the university’s Faculty of Science, Student Services and Advancement offices.

More than 200 friends and colleagues are expected to celebrate with Finlayson at the Diamond Alumni Centre at the Burnaby campus.

Finlayson came to SFU in 1967 and was the first female faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences. She retired in 1979 and four years later was named a special advisor to students. She counseled more than 8,000 students, working well past the age of 95.

She was honoured two years ago with the naming of the Thelma Finlayson Student Engagement Centre at the Burnaby campus, in recognition of her dedicated work with students.

While she no longer advises, Finlayson maintains ties with the university and also keeps up with her field. At 99, she co-authored a paper published in a New Zealand journal with SFU professor emeritus and colleague Manfred Mackauer. The pair’s research was first published in the Canadian Entomologist in 1967.

The first Finlayson Biodiversity Symposium was held at SFU in March to mark her centenary.

“I never expected to live as long as I have,” says Finlayson,” but I’m grateful for having such a fulfilling life.”

Backgrounder: Thelma Finlayson

Finlayson joined the Department of Agriculture at the Belleville Research Institute in Ontario in 1937 as one of its first female scientists.

She came to SFU in 1967 and was an assistant professor and curator of entomology. A founding member of SFU’s Centre for Pest Management, she became a full professor in 1976 and retired three years later.

Finlayson studied larval taxonomy and specialized in the use of parasites as natural ways of controlling forest and agricultural pests. Her work and reputation led to two species of insects being named for her.

She describes her post-retirement role as a student advisor as “a true joy.” She adds: “Much of the time all it takes is for students to talk things through to help them get back on track, and I just loved being there to listen.”

In addition to devoting time to students, Finlayson continued to advocate for the field of entomology through significant financial contributions, including an endowment to establish the Finlayson Chair in Biological Control, and entrance scholarships and fellowships for students in the Master of Pest Management program.

She was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2005 as a “trailblazing entomologist and a beloved teacher and advisor” and has received many other honours, including being named a Fellow (1993) and Honorary Member (1990) of the Entomological Society of Canada, and an Honorary Member of the Entomological Societies of both B.C. (1985) and Ontario (2013). She is also a lifetime Member of the Canadian Universities Women's Society.

Finlayson was recognized with SFU’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Service award in 2010 and a YWCA Woman of Distinction award in 2007. She received an honorary degree from SFU in 1996.