When great souls die, the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly,
see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines, gnaws on kind words
promised walks never taken.
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
- Maya Angelou
A Gedenkschrift to honour Brenda Zimmerman
On December 18, 2014, Michael Quinn Patton – co-author, colleague and friend – emailed a network of people worldwide connected with complexity ideas, systems thinking, social innovation, and developmental evaluation. People were invited to contribute short reflections on Brenda’s contributions and influences. Everyone who sent something is included in this volume. You can find the tribute here.
The Brenda Zimmerman (Ellis) Scholarship
On Tuesday January 20, 2015, the Schulich School of Business at York University announced the establishment of the Brenda Zimmerman (Ellis) Scholarship. This scholarship is a tribute to Brenda’s commitment to her students and the School. It will provide funding for a full-time MBA or IMBA student. The scholarship fund is named in her honour and will recognize her passionate pursuit of excellence and innovation.
To contribute to the Scholarship Fund, please visit www.supportschulich.ca/brendazimmerman or contact the Office of Development at 416.736.2100 ext: 44659.
Remembering Brenda Zimmerman
On Tuesday, December 16, 2014 the field of social innovation in Canada lost an early and much loved leader with the untimely passing of Brenda Zimmerman. Brenda’s stellar academic career has been detailed by Dean Deszo Horvath of York University’s Schulich School of Business. For her friends at Social Innovation Generation, the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, and the Tamarack Institute, Brenda will be remembered for her brilliance, her deep humanity, and her infectious sense of humour.
We are so sad to lose such a vital and generous member of the social innovation field, and our thoughts are with Brenda’s family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time.
President and CEO, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation
Brenda Zimmerman was an extraordinary colleague, teacher, author, community member and friend.
She was a guiding presence in SiG, both at the national level and at SiG@Waterloo, where she was an associate member, mentor and guide to many of us, faculty and students alike, a key designer of the program and a key presenter in the program.
But none of those descriptions capture the singular brilliance and warmth of Brenda. She had a completely unorthodox mind. As a graduate student she got interested in complexity theory. She saw in the scientific theories of complexity and chaos, insight into management and organizational dynamics. Despite the difficulty of convincing a business school in the 1980s that this was not only sound theory but sound practice, Brenda went on to train hundreds of Masters students (at McGill, Waterloo and York) in complexity thinking and practice as well as hundreds of doctors through her health care management program. Her methods were as unorthodox as her ideas. Once you had heard Brenda expound on “chunking”, on “min specs” or on “simple, complicated and complex” you thought the same way about how to manage difficult problems. Or once you had participated in a flocking experiment, or a TRIZ or a paper airplane contest in one of her classes you never again thought of education as “book learning”. It is not too much to say that Brenda single handedly forged the link between complexity thinking and management in this country. Then she brought it into the classroom in style: dressed beautifully, in fantastic shoes, laughing and expounding. She was unforgettable. Without her, there are many people in Canada today who would be the poorer.
I am one of them.
I learned so much from Brenda. But behind the beautiful presentation there was a friend and mentor – someone who combined persistence and constancy with great warmth and responsiveness. She was generous with her love and her care – we all felt her genuine interest, in who we were, in what we were feeling and thinking and how we were. To me she was a wonderful friend, who extended her care and interest not only to me but to those dear to me, my friends, my spouse, my children and grandchildren. Her insights illuminated many dark spots in my life and shed light on solutions.
Brenda’s greatest love was for her family, her two daughters, Gillian and Stephanie, her niece and nephew and her stepchildren, both the children of her recently deceased husband Bryan Hayday and her new husband Alan Ellis, her siblings and her parents. She spoke of them all with such affection that I came to know and care for them, in some cases without ever even meeting them. My deep sympathy goes out to them all in this terrible time. Even for me the warmth of the sun seems faded today; the world is sepia with sadness. What will we do without her?
Director, Waterloo Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience; SiG@Waterloo.