Friday, September 21, 2012

Eulogy for Sue Butterworth 14 Sep 2012

Eulogy for Sue Butterworth


14th September 2012

Sue was the Law School Secretary at University of Tasmania from 1989-2003 and a very close friend. I was asked to deliver a eulogy by her family.

This is the text on which the eulogy was based - delivered most of it as is - glare from the lights, a few near tears and a bit of ab lib changed some of it.  - Will be posting a video of full funeral service in near future.  The entire service was a wonderful celebration of Sue's life. I think it was able to convey to Sue's closest family and friends a very different picture of a Sue they only had a slight knowledge about - The Law School Sue.

Dear family and friends of Sue Butterworth. I have been asked by Alison to talk about Sue’s involvement with the Law School – a special place in her life and a place made special by her presence there for almost 15 years.

My task, and honour, today is to pay tribute to an outstanding and wonderful woman. A tribute not only on behalf of myself and my family, but on behalf of literally hundreds of lawyers, government officials and graduates whose lives and attitudes were shaped and transformed by becoming part of Sue’s world.

Many, who only knew that Sue worked at the Law School, might be surprised by the strength, degree and source of the outpouring of fond memories that has been shared with Sue’s family in the last week from those connected with the Law School. Hundreds of graduates have expressed a sense of loss but also gratitude for having Sue around at a critical point in their lives and careers.

We all know that Sue was not very tolerant of fools nor could she stand being praised or recognisied for her achievements.  I am sure she is mad with me at this very moment - on both accounts. But I loved to annoy and stir her – and for my sins received twice as much grief back.

The woeful grammar and punctuation in this speech would be annoying the hell out of her. I was never allowed to publish a paper, give a speech or write a newspaper article without being subjected to her scathing but always useful corrections. She continued to perform this role for me from time to time even after she retired due to ill-health.

 Yet despite Sue’s likely objections we can’t and shouldn’t ignore what a lasting legacy she has left. No one else, in the period that Sue worked at the Law School, touched so many people, so deeply and so profoundly. She went from being simply “a law school secretary” to a person who has been described in the following terms :–

Marcus Fowler (a graduate) wrote to me -

 “Sue was such an integral, wonderful part of the law school in the years that I was studying (1991-1996). Her cutting wit, knowledge, patience, and ultimate affection for her role and the students was indispensable.”

Another graduate Paul Garth said –

Through the long years at law school, Sue was a constant presence in the Aquarium that was somehow reassuring to me. At times of self-doubt, wondering what the hell I was doing there, she always had a smile and a chat and would make me feel as if I was one of the law school family, a feeling of belonging. She must have seen countless students and staff flow through that faculty, but I suspect she had a special gift of making thousands of other students feel the same way.”

In particular Sue served as an invaluable and friendly face for international students – a group of students who were not only attempting the hardships of a law degree but facing those hardships away from family and friends in another culture. Her care and support for international students (many of them now occupying powerful positions in their home countries) remains deeply appreciated.

Suka Mangisi Acting Sectretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  in Tonga wrote –

As an international student, her kind and warm demeanor made me feel comfortable and free to ask anything and everything of her regarding school work with the oft mention of other non-school matters which made the relationship more personal. She was always well dressed and kind with great social skills which made me as an international student more at home, whilst away from home.”

Suka’s comments were endorsed last night by Samuel Manetoali, Minister for Tourism in the Solomons – and one of Sue’s much loved international students.

This elegant, beautiful and eloquent woman worked her magic day in and day out, from the very first day of starting her job at the law school.

Year after year Sue did her job in full public view at the Aquarium. An open plan office opened on one side with a long counter that could allow a dozen or more people to stand at it. And they often did.

She did her job with little control over when or for how long busy periods would last, or those long periods of solitude when staff and students were working or the endless stretches of boredom during university breaks.

And she did it with no control over what jobs staff needed to have done urgently by yesterday (with often minimal and/or indecipherable instructions in my case).

And despite these trying and challenging work conditions it was indeed magic that Sue worked.

In the 1989 Advocatus, the Law School magazine, it was clear that Sue made an immediate impact on her first group of students. They wrote:

“Of course, our special, special, special – eternally grateful thanks go to Sue Butterworth, for just being wonderful. She corrected our grammatical and spelling errors, reminded us of meetings, bent over backwards to help us (or so she alleged) and danced the legs off us at the Law Ball.”

Year in and year out – when her own life was going through its ups and downs, even when her health was not great – she managed to continue to work her professional magic every working day. We know Sue loved to party and outside work hours was a wild child – her performances on the dance floors at Law Balls were indeed legendary including one episode of crowd surfing.

Yet in work hours she turned the position of typist and collector and dispenser of student assignments into a very special role. She terrified first year students – a terror that completely ‘house trained” generations of UTAS lawyers. Thousands of secretaries around the world who have received special treatment from UTAS graduates never realised the great debt that they owed Sue Butterworth.

First year students very quickly learnt their place or proper station in life.
As Alison so eloquently put it – “Mum had no time for first year students until they learnt some respect and pulled the stick out of their arses”.

Our current Premier Lara Giddings wrote to me from overseas and said:

I seem to recall being a little intimidated by her in my early years at uni, but soon came to understand her passion for her work and for all of us.

Yet this terrifying person later became a key person in students’ ability to cope at Law School.

Will Hodgman, Leader of the Opposition noted “Sue certainly played a pivotal role in helping get me through to graduation.”

For many students the most wonderful moment in their law degree was not passing their first exam, or scoring 80% in contract law or even graduation but that moment when after what seemed an eternity they were greeted by a smile for the first time from Sue and she addressed them by name.

Rena Bean told me -

“I remember the first time I had to approach the "gatekeeper" of the aquarium. She was so stern & intimidating. By the end of first semester contract law I realised she was an absolute gem & a softy, a caring, amazing woman once you earnt her respect. I loved the start of a new year watching terrified students approach Sue to submit work. We would stand back & snigger...for me Sue was the law school. Greatly loved mentor & wise woman who restored our faith after our ordeals with a strong belief of "of course you can do it."

At some critical moment in their  lives many students found in Sue a friend, a counsellor or simply someone who was there for them when needed most.

Year after year Sue watched, engaged with and helped students go from fresh faced first years to confident graduates. She always desperately hunted up a ticket to each graduation to look proudly down, from near the back rows, on “her” students graduating.

Even after ill-health forced her from the Law School she still dragged herself to each law graduation until the last of “her” students had finally graduated.

Just a few final reflections about Sue -

Tom Baxter wrote:
 As one of the countless students Sue helped over the years, my enduring memories are her warm, friendly face across the counter of her “Aquarium”: 
·         always willing to make time for a chat; 
·         genuinely interested;
·         making you feel so much more than just another student number;
·         ever-ready to calm and assist panicked students submitting overdue assignments!
Nothing ever seemed too much trouble for her.
Sue was so much more than the Law Faculty Receptionist. She was part of the heart and soul of the place. Thousands of former students will fondly remember her.

For Caroline Cannock Walsh

“She was always the perfect mix of scary, smiling charm in the aquarium. Every law school needs a Sue.”

Ursula Hogben (nee Crowley) captures Sue’s special impact so well –

“Sue was an amazing influence in the Law Faculty - there's a saying "your dream job doesn't exist, you have to create it" and she did! Sue was equal parts administrator, office manager, gatekeeper, confidante and friend. She was a dose of realism, strength and warmth and we all grew up under her influence. I hope Sue's funeral is a wonderful celebration of her life.”

It was my pleasure and privilege to share a key part of my working life and the early years of my children’s lives with such a wonderful lady.

The Law School has been around for almost 120 years but I think no other era, to date, has had as much heart or been so closely linked to its student body as the “Sue Butterworth” era.

Thank you Sue for a wonderful and lasting legacy.

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