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Remembering: Brenda MacEachern, MLIS'87

by Emily-Jane Hills Orford, BA'78

“Do you know what you should do?”

That question, accompanied by an irresistible sparkle in the eye, an enthusiastic smile and sometimes a slight giggle, is a vibrant way to start anyone’s day, especially if it is followed by an interesting suggestion. “You should write about...”

Those words have sparked my creative juices for the past 30 years and will continue to do so for many years to come. The question belongs to a voice that I can still hear today, encouraging me to go beyond, to think beyond the parameters and to revel in a new idea, a new way of looking at things.

It is a question that a mentor asks when helping a young creative mind seek excellence. It is a question that requests consideration, but makes no demands.

Brenda MacEachern was the mentor, my mentor, who frequently challenged me to elaborate on her brilliant idea of the day. And, her ideas were always brilliant. I entered the Visual Arts Department in 1974, four years after Brenda took over the Slide Library (now known as the Richard and Beryl Ivey Visual Resources Library) as its curator. Already the collection of a mere 28,000 slides had grown substantially and, as curator, Brenda was  adding more slides, recataloguing the collection and creating her own system of image cataloguing, a system that would be duplicated in other slide libraries across the country.

I joined the ‘workforce’ of Brenda’s student assistants in 1976 and helped mount thousands of slides. We worked and we talked and we made friends, Brenda forever being our mentor, always full of ingenious ideas and endless enthusiasm that was quite infectious.

When I graduated from Western and moved on to obtain my Masters degree and then started writing and publishing books, Brenda was still there, cheering me on. I took every opportunity I could to drop in for a visit over the years and we certainly kept in touch through correspondence. That question would always pop up again, “Do you know what you should do?” and I would enthusiastically pursue the gem of an idea that Brenda had presented.

I was pleased to hear that she had published her own book, a family story, Nicholas Vivian Kent – An Ontario Family Saga, in 2004. I was even more pleased to hear that, in 2007, Western had recognized her contribution of 40 years of dedication and enthusiasm, awarding Brenda with the Western Award of Excellence. Her contribution to Western University is the Richard and Beryl Ivey Visual Resources Library with its over 150,000 images, that has been ranked by the Visual Resources Association as one of the top 10 visual-resource facilities in all of North America, the only one in Canada to make this list.

Her contribution to the community, particularly the art community, is the wealth of brilliant and creative minds that she has inspired and mentored over the years. Brenda will be sadly missed by us all.

Remembering is a new Western Alumni Gazette feature. Essays of less than 400 words about alumni who have passed in the last year will be considered. Only one will be published per issue, and you will be contacted if yours is chosen. Those not chosen for publication may be featured online at Submissions can be sent to or Remembering, c/o WAG Editor, Communications & Public Affairs, Western University, Suite 360, Westminster Hall, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7.

This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Alumni Gazette
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