I don’t usually write personal entries on this blog, but this one is an exception, since one doesn’t often lose a colleague and friend to a long struggle with cancer. So, please permit the point of personal privilege.
My library colleague Ellen Tillett, who had served as a reference librarian and director of public services at Wofford’s Sandor Teszler Library since 1995, passed away this week after a lengthy battle with cancer. And despite her long struggle– 18 years altogether – none of us really thought she’d leave us. After all, each time things looked bad, she’d bounce back with a new treatment, a new clinical trial. At least to us, she never lost her optimism. She didn’t let her illness dominate her life, at least not with us. She kept working in the library up until this month.
Over the past two decades, I daresay she taught more than half of the library instruction sessions that we offered. Almost every history major at Wofford had her for the history research methods course that she co-taught with a rotating cast of history professors. I’d imagine most Wofford student and faculty research projects benefited from her reference assistance.
Ellen was wise, considerate, and she had a wicked sense of humor. She cared about her colleagues and was an excellent mentor to new, younger librarians. She would dig in her heels on a point of principle, but she could be persuaded to see the other side of an issue. She was a staunch defender of academic freedom and the independence of libraries. Beyond all of that, she loved her garden, and I think many of us have some daylilies or other plants from her garden. She loved to travel, a pastime she learned from her professorial parents. She didn’t let her illness stop her from heading off to Europe or Australia during the summers or the Galapagos during an Interim. All of us in the library enjoyed the breakfast treats, including the Moravian sugar cake that as a good daughter of Wake Forest and Winston-Salem she brought during the week before Christmas each year.
I’m still not quite certain when it’s going to hit me that she won’t be back at work. I suspect there will be a lot of “what would Ellen do” or “what would Ellen say” remarks in the library for a long time. We shared some of those comments in the library today.
We never know who we will touch as we pass through this life. Each day, we meet many people, and we have an opportunity to make an impression on most of them. I always think that our loved ones never really leave us, but live on in our memories and in the ways they shape our lives. Ellen provides for us a beautiful example of a colleague whose wisdom, intelligence, and grace touched all of us who surrounded her.