Today marks one year since the passing of my dear colleague, Sylvia Chant, who had been my mentor and supporter.
Professor of Development Geography, she was an enthusiastic educator, a critical intellect and a kind mentor to a countless number of students and colleagues. I was often jealous of how she was able to place such huge impact on students during classes and office hours. So many students told me Sylvia was their inspiration. In this regard, she had been definitely my role model.
Sylvia was generous with her time and possessed passion, zeal and a profound appetite for critical enquiries that placed gendered perspectives at the centre. With keen interests in photography, she always carried a camera with her, and took pictures of various staff and student gatherings, then sharing them soon after returning home, however late that may be. She had such a magical aura and recognisable presence wherever she was, supplemented by mischievous sense of humour as well as readiness to intervene when her voice was needed.
A detailed summary of her life-time work can be found in this obituary. She passed away on the day the students in the programme she was co-directing with me were graduating. Yesterday was the day of virtual graduation of those students who had a fortune to meet her before her passing. Despite acute pains, Sylvia forced herself to come to those student events (induction and reception for new students, dissertation workshop and brown-bag meeting with alumni for current students) that she committed to attend, and deliver her share of teaching in her final term to keep her promise from months ago. She did all these without losing composure and dignity. She loved her work and her students.
Her most recent essay was titled “Geography and gender, hindsight and foresight: A feminist development geographer’s reflections on: ‘Hose the other half lives: The geographical study of women”, published posthumously. I’d recommend reading this strongly, as it is a highly inspiring piece that reveals Sylvia’s personality and scholarship I miss dearly.
The first party I was invited to after joining the Department was Sylvia’s 50th birthday party, and I still remember the day vividly. She loved being surrounded by friends, students and colleagues. When she was fighting the illness, she threw her 59th birthday party, and despite the health circumstances, it was one of the best parties I could imagine and Sylvia was a great host as she had always been, with loving smiles and warm attention to every guest.
She was honest with her feelings and didn’t hesitate to share her thoughts. In the last meeting with her research cluster colleagues, only a couple of months before her passing, she briefed us in detail about her critical conditions with such calmness and composure, which I don’t think I’d ever be able to replicate. She maintained her dignity, self-esteem and care for those around her until the last moments she had.
I was too sad to let her go since her passing and still mourn for Sylvia whose passing is still felt to be premature. I would never forget the time I had with her, over coffee at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in the Old Building fourth floor restaurant at LSE, or in her office that was full of various mementos, pictures and greeting cards. Now that it’s been a year, and with yesterday’s virtual graduation bringing the memories back, I wanted to write this to remember her more, believing that she’s now resting in piece with no more pain.