Generosity that knows no bounds: longtime community builder Gladys We retires from SFU

November 01, 2021

By Christine Lyons

I suspect Gladys We is one of those individuals for whom “retirement” means boldly seeking out new challenges and embarking on grand adventures. Those who know her can probably envision her founding a fibre-arts collective or combining these with her love of science fiction & fantasy and utilizing her expertise in graphic and web design. Truly, Gladys We could end up developing a wildly successful social media platform for knitters, and those that know her would not be surprised at all. 

We is an innovator who brings a signature warmth, generosity, and positivity to everything she does. 

In the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, she is the first person to serve as Director of Communications and Marketing, which was no easy feat. 

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to have worked closely with Gladys as Dean,” says Dr. Jane Pulkingham, former FASS Dean. 

“Stepping up to be the first Director of Communications and Marketing in FASS was a big undertaking - the role was sorely needed and the field of play, a vast one. But Gladys stickhandled the complexities with aplomb, and we all benefited by her skillful work and deep knowledge of SFU acquired in no small measure because of her low-key but amazing networking skills as a people-person extraordinaire.”

In addition to heading several successful recruitment campaigns and activities for FASS, We has supported every unit throughout FASS be it through events promotion, highlighting faculty research, or student success stories. She's also built a strong community of communications professionals throughout the Faculty's departments, schools, and programs. For this dedicated work building a network of communicators and supporting communications in FASS, We earned a Changemaker FASS Employee Achievement Award.

"Gladys was a connector and a builder of relationships,” says Dr. Peter Hall FASS Dean pro tem. “She did engagement long before that became a buzzword."

Indeed, We has been engaging the SFU community for many years. Before joining FASS, she was a communications officer for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) for several years, and prior to GPS, she spent the better part of 20 years in Continuing Studies at Harbour Centre, working with Carol Knight’s team to produce marketing materials for Continuing Studies, Development (now Advancement) and other programs run out of SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus. 

To say We knows the university inside out would be a gross understatement, since she’s had over thirty years' experience both studying and working here. 

She started studying chemistry but ended up taking a BA with a major in communications, minor in English (and one course shy of a minor in women’s studies, now the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies). 

She began working at the university the way many others do, by submitting her name to the SFU Temporary Employee Pool.

“My first job was actually with the Prison Education Program. I was hired to type up prisoners’ writing—poems and short fiction, that were then published in the program’s literary journal.” 

“It was really meaningful work,” she reflects as she packs up old copies of the journal in her office, "And I’m so grateful I was a part of it.” 

She has seen it all at SFU, including many of the university’s milestones, such as the introduction of the Internet and email to SFU.  

"I was a founding board member of the Vancouver Freenet, and I was asked to give a demonstration of ‘What is the Internet’ to the annual BC Librarians conference. It was at Harbour Centre, which is where the Internet came up (out of the basement) and then went to the rest of the province. So, it was about as reliable as you can get for a demonstration of the Internet. I started the demo and boom, suddenly we had no Internet. Turned out that lightning had taken out the Internet to the province, somewhere up the line! From then on, I took screenshots when I was asked to demonstrate the Internet in case I needed them!” 

We has made an indelible impression on everyone who has had the pleasure of knowing and working with her. Her excellent work ethic and generosity are second-to-none according to her many longtime SFU colleagues.  

Susanne Stockdill, Senior Director, Faculty Operations & Planning, Faculty of Science worked with her in Continuing Studies and says they have been close friends and colleagues for many years. 

“Not only is Gladys a generous and warm person,” says Stockdill, “she excels at everything she does and is always willing to step in to support others regardless of their department or position in the University." 

Wade Parkhouse SFU Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President Academic, who worked with Gladys in GPS says, “Gladys came into GPS like a ‘ball of fire.' Her enthusiasm and ideas for promoting our students and graduate affairs was astounding. It was hard to keep pace with her but her impact on our communications and promotion of graduate programs and students was profound." 

Gladys We has supported Ride2Survive fundraising for cancer for a number of years. She's pictured here in the back of a pick-up truck documenting the 2018 ride for the group's social media. Photo credit: Jason Brawn
Cyclists in Ride2Survive with Gladys in the pickup truck ahead. Photo credit: Jason Brawn

Students and staff across SFU rave about We’s signature generosity and community-mindedness.  

“Her capacity for caring and taking care of everyone around while she was in GPS knew no bounds,” says Deena Coburn, Director of GPS, recalling that she was happiest while planning graduate orientation for incoming students.  

“For months, Gladys would spend her time building on-line communities for graduate students to connect, being available to answer all questions for students and making sure the logistics of the day itself would be perfect to create a welcoming atmosphere for all the incoming students.” 

Now a PhD candidate in Education, Jade Ho recalls when she came to SFU from Belize in 2013, We helped her feel welcome. 

“I had no knowledge of how anything worked at SFU and in Canada in general. Without Gladys, so many of us would be completely lost when we first arrived!” says Ho.  

“She answered so many of my questions tirelessly and always shared timely and important information for international students and grad students. She was always so willing to chat anytime you visit her. She made me feel like I am part of this community before I even arrived.” 

Likewise, We was known to be a generous, thoughtful mentor to emerging communications staff at SFU. Economics Communications Officer, Carmen Chin first met We while working for GPS as a co-op student in 2016. 

“When I was interviewing for the co-op position in GPS, I was so nervous. But when we found out we both shared roots in Southeast Asia, we immediately bonded over our love for the food and all of the nervousness I felt during the interview just melted away – Gladys’ warm and welcoming personality made me feel at ease.” 

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without her,” Chin continues, noting that We gave her guidance on career pathways and provided opportunities to explore her interests. 

“Even long after I ended my co-op work term with her, she was still there to support me and for that I’m forever grateful. It has been a pleasure being able to work alongside her at FASS these past three years and I’m glad I can call her both my mentor and friend.”

Heading into retirement, We says she is excited to do more knitting, spinning, weaving and walking — but not all at once! One of her fondest memories was helping to market pilgrimage tours for Don Grayston and John Mills, and she hopes to finally walk those routes — London to Canterbury, or the Camino de Santiago — in their memory.

When you ask her what she has enjoyed the about her time at SFU or what she will miss, she answers without hesitation: “The people! And the bagpipes at convocation,” she laughs. 

“But in all seriousness, I’ve been so privileged to work with such amazing people over the decades, and that has honestly been the best part of the journey.”

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences extends immense gratitude to Gladys We for her lifetime of service at SFU. Please join us in wishing her a joyful retirement and all the best in the next grand adventure! 

We invite the SFU community to share well-wishes or fond memories of your time working with Gladys We. Please email fasscomm@sfu.ca and we will post your comments below this article. 

"Gladys has always been an early adopter of IT, social media platforms and software, pulling some of the luddites among us in her wake. Her understanding of how to make them work for public not for profit institutions is uncanny. And, she has always shown a sensitivity to their weaknesses. I remember best her incredible commitment to the President's Dream Colloquium, pushing all lucky participants to new levels in using public dissemination to really change ideas. Without her, the Big Data seminar would not have existed, nor done as well at challenging data authoritarianism and rehabilitating the public image of whistle blowers like Ed Snowden. But it has been her work in FASS to advance student emergency communication during COVID, defending the non-traditional learner, and protecting junior faculty from on line harrassment which has been remarkable. She is veritably, an academic administrator-entrepreneur committed to the public intellectual in the best sense. She raises the bar for all of us."

~ Catherine Murray, PhD., Professor Emerita, GSWS