The archival community in Alberta is still coming to terms with the sudden loss of one of its leading advocates and supporters, Dr. Sandra Thomson, Provincial Archivist and Director of the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Her passing was unexpected and caught everyone unaware and certainly forced everyone to ponder the fragility of life. The community, in coming together to pay their last respects, also took time to confirm in their minds the accomplishments of this person, whom they had gotten to know such a short time ago.
Each one of us will remember Dr. Sandra Thomson in their own way, based on their own experiences that they have had with her. Each one of us has at least one story they can recount that describes Sandra, her work, her personality or her drive. She was a very special person who nudged us to continue to strive for better, not settle for good enough and sometimes to take a calculated risk.
Those who had the opportunity to get to know Sandra, and work with her, saw her commitment to preserving history for future generations. She strongly believed that a society without a good understanding of its history could not truly appreciate it or prepare for the future. Dr. Sandra Thomson did not "grow up" an archivist. She did, however, grow up valuing history and later advocating for it in her positions in historic sites and in the archives. In her position as Provincial Archivist she truly believed that the archives were the memory of a society and that "Without these records we don't understand where we came from…. With them we can understand how Alberta was built and what went wrong and then we can make some decisions and plans for the future".
Sandra strove to ensure that the Provincial Archives and the archival community as a whole were valued and used by Albertans to its fullest potential. She was a strong and vocal advocate for the Archives Society of Alberta and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote archives and so that the archival community received the awareness and understanding from the public and decision makers that it deserved. The completion of a new home for the Provincial Archives was realized before she passed away, and was something that through extreme dedication and persistence she achieved, and at the end of the day she was very proud of this accomplishment.
Margaret Mead once said: "… measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings". If, you were to consider this statement and apply it to the late Provincial Archivist of Alberta, Dr. Sandra Thomson, you would consider her a very successful person. She accomplished many things in her lifetime; in addition to the many historic sites and interpretive programs she ensured were completed, one can add the completion of the new Provincial Archives of Alberta as her crowning professional achievement. She had a vision that was not completely realized - actually she was just getting started. She saw the archives as core to the understanding of the history of Alberta, and she envisioned a more user- friendly space where genealogists, scholars, writers and journalist, students and business people could easily access the information they were seeking by being able to access the unique one-of-a-kind records held in the vaults of the archives. She saw the Provincial Archives as an important part of doing government business, and of students learning by using the primary sources created by generations before.
Most of us had the opportunity to meet Sandra Thomson. Some of us had the privilege to work with her. She had a presence that commanded attention; she was a strong and astute leader. She had a quick wit and confident style and was a great storyteller. She rarely admitted to anyone any aspect of her character that she perceived as "soft". She cared deeply about her staff, and her friends and many times she quietly supported them, promoted them and mentored them. She had a belief in people and their inherent goodness and would defend them to the wall. She was a smart woman, who knew also how to manage and pursue the things she needed so that they would get accomplished - she saw opportunities and made things happen.
We all have stories we will remember about Sandra, which will help to keep her memory alive. Some of us will remember her as a mentor, a professional, a kind and generous person, a friend. But what ever your memory of Sandra and whatever stories you will tell - there is no fear of forgetting a very strong supporter of the archival community in Alberta.
May her memory be eternal!