Remembering Elaine Stolar


It is with profound sadness that the School of Social Work marks the passing of Professor Emeritus and former Director, Elaine Stolar. Born and raised in Alberta, Elaine retained her prairie accent and attested to the benefits of prairie winters in giving her a love of skating that derived from the long, frozen irrigation ditches that marked the prairie landscape. After a career in community mental health, where Elaine supervised numerous social work students including Mary Russell who also later joined the faculty, Elaine was appointed to the School of Social Work in 1966.  Elaine first taught Human Behavior in the Social Environment from a very sociological and contextual perspective, influenced by her earlier education in sociology. Over the years, she taught many courses including human sexuality. Elaine was one of the School’s longest serving faculty members when she retired in 1998. She was a consummate practitioner/scholar whose collaboration with Professor Michael McEntee in Dentistry produced important research related to seniors’ encounters with this part of the health care system.


She was twice Acting Director of the School before a leadership vacuum occurred in the early 90’s leading a delegation of faculty to implore Elaine to again step into the role. In her customary leadership style, Elaine said she would consider it if by the end of the weekend we had all provided her with a specification of what we were each prepared to do to help her. Then when it came time to fill the position permanently, and faculty again approached Elaine, she agreed to apply only on the condition that there was a national search that she could enter like any other applicant. She was awarded the position in 1993 and held it until her retirement five years later.


As Director, 1993-1998, Elaine undertook the task of diversifying the faculty first through the recruitment of First Nations and LGBT faculty in response to community interests. Elaine had the unenviable job of presiding as Director during a period when the School’s resources were much diminished and the University was not replacing retiring faculty.


The size of the School’s faculty was almost halved when Elaine presided over the merger with Family Studies, bringing those faculty members back into the Faculty of Arts and building on the School’s capacity in the areas of human behavior and development until both groups were in a position to realign. Despite the challenges Elaine faced while in office, Elaine always retained an amicable relationship with senior administrators among whom she was much admired. Following her retirement, her advice was often requested and always much appreciated.


Elaine lived as she practiced and taught, with an ethic of care and inclusion. Though she never had children of her own, she twice took on the role of child rearing, once when a close friend died, leaving an adolescent daughter in Elaine’s care. Elaine’s mother attended her retirement party and in her later years moved in with Elaine and her husband Jerry. Elaine and Jerry’s relationship was a love story for the ages. Married young and then divorced, they met again many years later and married again. Jerry survives Elaine and we extend our condolences and our thanks to him for his loving care of our colleague and friend.


At her retirement, Dean Newman met Elaine’s mother and said that Elaine’s future looked good. Elaine always cut a discrete but attractive figure. In her private life, she was a skilled seamstress and made most of her own clothes, even winter coats. She was also an excellent gardener as evidenced by the beautiful garden she maintained in North Vancouver for many years. She even pruned her own trees. Once not long after her retirement she appeared at the School with scratches on her arms. When asked what happened, and she said it happened when she was climbing trees in her garden. Queried as to why she was doing that, her answer was, “Because I can”. That spirit contributed to her buoyancy and resiliency and benefited the School of Social Work for many years.


Richard Sullivan, Mary Russell, Graham Riches