Pulling up roots after 46 years

Paul Mayne // Western News

As the longest-serving member of the University of Western Ontario Staff Association (UWOSA), Department of Math academic counsellor Janet Williams will retire from Western next month after 46 years.

If you glance out Janet Williams’ office window in Middlesex College, you’ll see a lovely, mature 35-year-old beech tree. She remembers the day it was planted.

“There used to be two, but about three years ago one suddenly died,” said Williams, an academic counsellor in the Department of Math. She has a piece of bark from that ill-fated tree, with another small piece of the tree doubling as a door stop. “When they were tearing it down, I remember going out and asking them if they could cut me off a piece.”

That beech tree is just one of many memories Williams will take with her next month as she retires from Western after 46 years.

A Londoner born and raised, Williams attended Fanshawe College the second year it opened. “I wasn’t in that first-year class. I just missed out,” she laughed.

Following graduation, Williams worked for a law firm, but the job was not what she was hoping for. Through an employment agency, she found a part-time job at Western, in what was then the Department of Buildings and Grounds (now Facilities Management).

“It was rather interesting over there. I did enjoy the atmosphere of campus, which did prompt me wanting to stay,” said Williams, who recalls seeing architectural drawings for what would soon turn out to be the University Community Centre. “The Social Science Building. D.B. Weldon Library. University Hospital. None of that was here at that point.”

At the time, Williams was a single mother hoping for something full time with benefits. She found a role in Economics, which she got, before transferring to Math just over a year later in 1971.

After a number of years working out of the Engineering Building, Williams moved to her current location in Middlesex College in 1980. Beginning as a secretary, she moved up to academic counsellor.

“I learned so many things on the job,” said Williams, the longest-serving member of the University of Western Ontario Staff Association (UWOSA).

“Sometimes, students come in thinking they have an insurmountable problem. They don’t know what to do and they can’t figure it out. Oftentimes, it’s really cool to be able to say, ‘That’s not a problem. All you have to do is this, this and this.’”

As a clock on her computer screen counts down the hours to retirement, Williams knows it will be hard to leave a place she has spent almost her entire life at – but she is ready.

“I’m about a year and a half past my normal retirement date because I really didn’t want to leave,” she laughed. “But I’ll be able to spend more time with family and I would like to take some trips. My pension counsellor said I can afford it.”

Williams has her eye on a trip to Texas to see family, an adventure to Newfoundland and, perhaps, even a cruise.

“I am looking forward to making an appointment for any time of the day, shopping any time of the day; it’s going to be different,” she said. “I have a lot of friends who are already retired and they can’t wait for me to join them.”

Williams said the university has afforded her family a wonderful life. But she’ll miss the students, the campus events, the free concerts and other activities, as well as her colleagues and friends.

“I’m going to miss them the most – that and this incredible view,” she said.