Last week, a small-town country girl was remembered for her love of teaching and mathematics at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Dr. Catherine Stanley grew up in a working-class family in North Grenville. Born in England, she emigrated to Canada at a young age with her parents, Ted and Margaret Stanley, and two sisters, Helen and Liz. Her parents were farmers and, after moving around Ontario working on various farms for a few years, they finally settled in North Grenville in 1976 and worked for the Sommerville family, managing their dairy farm. “It was a quiet life,” Catherine’s sister, Helen Vokey, remembers. “We just went to school and helped out on the farm.”
Catherine was always drawn to mathematics, earning top marks and praise from her teachers as early as Grade One. Throughout her time at North Grenville District High School she took part in many math competitions, where she always ranked with the top contestants. She also took part in a year-long Rotary exchange in Australia, where she attended Penleigh & Essendon Grammar School and was awarded the Australian Mathematics Competition Award of Distinction in Mathematics. Catherine continued her education at the University of Toronto, where she earned undergraduate, Masters and PhD Degrees in mathematics.
Catherine met her soulmate, Hans Albarda, while studying at UofT. “A friend introduced us,” Hans remembers fondly. “I was a professor at Georgian College in Owen Sound and Barrie.” They had two girls and, after a vacation to Nova Scotia, decided to move out there for the serenity of the coast. Together they built their solar-powered, off-grid home just outside of Wolfville, the town most prized for housing Acadia University. “I’ve lived off the grid since 1971,” Hans says. “Catherine thought that was pretty cool.”
It was a fateful move out east, as Catherine stumbled upon the opportunity to teach at Acadia University while taking a walk through the grounds on a sunny afternoon. She stopped to watch an active group of birds, and a stranger appeared beside her to tell her about the falcon the University had recently purchased to stifle the growing pigeon population. “The stranger turned out to be one of Acadia’s math profs,” Hans says. After their meeting, she was hired to teach mathematics and statistics courses at the university, a position she enjoyed for thirteen years. “She loved sharing her love of math with the students,” says her colleague in the Mathematics and Statistics Department, Richard Karsten. “She was able to relate to the students even if they weren’t mathematically inclined.”
Hans says Catherine loved math for its purity. “She could find the absolute truth that no one could deny.” As an artist who always worked in shades of grey, he says he loved and respected her for it. “We were an interesting and good match,” he says.
At the age of 45, Catherine was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. A diagnosis she lived with for six years, until she died in May, 2016. For those who knew her, Catherine has left behind a legacy of love for her family, her students, and mathematics. To honour her memory, friends, family and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Acadia University came together to offer the Catherine Stanley Memorial Scholarship, awarded to a student who has demonstrated joy and enthusiasm in learning and teaching mathematics and statistics.
Two students at Acadia received the scholarship, one for 2017 and one for 2018. Fourth-year student, Kirsten Ernst, and Masters student, Alice Lacaze-Masmonteil, were each presented with the $2,000 scholarship by Catherine’s two daughters, Alice and Janna Albarda, at a ceremony last Thursday. “The ceremony was excellent,” Richard said. “It was really nice to be able to do something for her.”
Richard says the biggest thing that Catherine brought to the department was her joy of life. “She enjoyed her life and job, and reminded us that math was supposed to be fun,” he remembers. “You went away a happier person after talking to her.”
Although it ended too early, Catherine’s is a true success story for North Grenville. A first-generation university graduate, Catherine surpassed all expectations and became a mentor for her students and a friend to everyone who knew her. In her own words: “Teaching math at Acadia University was a career I never planned, but I found great joy in teaching. I loved my students. All of them. From first year Intro Stats, to third year Number Theory. Thank you all for the honour of working with you.”
Loved by family, friends, colleagues and students, Catherine’s love of math, and everyone in her life, will never be forgotten and will be immortalized by the scholarship in her name for years to come. “She always wanted to help students and now she still can,” Hans says.