AU remembers Louise Daley, the university’s oldest graduate
The Athabasca University (AU) community is mourning the passing of beloved lifelong learner and Order of Athabasca University inductee, Louisa “Louise” Daley, who passed away on Aug. 6. She was 97.
Daley had the distinction of being the oldest learner to ever graduate from AU when she earned a Bachelor of General Studies at the age of 93. It was her second degree from AU in an education journey that spanned more than three decades.
“I did as much as I did because I’m always looking forward,” Daley said in an interview prior to convocation in 2017. “I don’t sit and moan about things that I can’t help.”
Road to higher learning
Daley was born on March 18, 1924 in Norton-on-Tees, a village in County Durham, England, where she lived until she was nine. In 1939, her family moved to a home in Hartlepool, a neighbouring town on the North Sea Coast where, for 42 years, Daley remained under one roof: 209 Raby Road.
Born with a heart defect, Daley was unable to run and play in the same way as her siblings and friends. So, she turned to reading and eventually showed an interest in writing.
Daley’s educational opportunities, in the traditional sense, ended when she was 14 years old. Due to the Second World War, she left school to help her mother with work around the house. At 17, she got a paying job supporting the war effort, which she did for two years before her damaged heart made it impossible.
209 Raby Road would continue to be home for Daley even after she married her husband, Thomas Daley. The couple took over renting the house when her parents moved to a small cottage, and within its walls they raised four daughters: Jannette, Kathleen, Eileen, and Miriam.
The Hartlepool dwelling provided a proper setting for a doting mother and housewife. It was often enlivened with music, laughter, and amateur talent shows performed by the children. Daley wrote the plays, sewed her daughters’ fashionably smart dresses, and developed an interest in writing poetry and prose.
Canada, crafts, and writing
The music and joy in the house faded in January 1976 when Thomas succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 58. Four years later, Daley moved to Calgary, Alta., to be closer to her eldest daughter. Much of her life in Canada was dedicated to activities such as crafting beaded greeting cards, tailor-made with verses she wrote herself. She also knitted doll clothing and dishcloths, often with Coronation Street on the TV.
“I’ve been alone now for 44 years, and you’ve got to fill in that time doing something.”– Louise Daley, in 2020
With a growing interest in writing, Daley wanted to pursue post-secondary education. She traded in her dishcloths for distance education and enrolled at AU at the age of 53. It became the pedestal for her word-smithing and caustic wit. Writing was an ideal forum for channelling her passion and thought.
“I’ve been alone now for 44 years, and you’ve got to fill in that time doing something,” Daley said in 2020, when asked about her decision to go back to school. “It’s no good just sitting back.”
AU’s oldest graduate
In 1999—22 years after deciding to start school—a 75-year-old Daley graduated from AU with a Bachelor of Arts degree. That didn’t stop her from continuing to learn. The next year, she enrolled in the Bachelor of General Studies program.
In 2017, after 34 years of study at AU, she became the university’s eldest graduate to cross the stage at convocation, earning her second degree. Three years later, she was inducted to the Order of Athabasca University in recognition and celebration of her commitment to lifelong learning.
“I feel like they’re saying, ‘You’ve done something worthwhile,’” she said at the time. “It’s like writing stories. There’s nothing like somebody saying, ‘I like that,’ and that’s more or less what Athabasca University is saying to me.”
Remembered for her “joie de vivre”
Daley touched many hearts during her time at AU and was a source of inspiration for those who think they are too old to start school. In 2019 Daley submitted a piece to The Hub, Things people have said, to not only inspire others but to tell her story and how she proved naysayers wrong.
Dr. Reinekke Lengelle worked on the article with Daley, who “tells us … you’re never too old to learn and engage with life. And all hardships can be faced with humour and dignity.”
As a teacher and friend, Lengelle said she’ll remember Daley’s “joie de vivre” and sense of humour.
“Even when she was struggling with aches and pains … she would tell a joke”– Dr. Rienekke Lengelle
“Even when she was struggling with aches and pains, computer issues, or eyesight ups and downs, she would tell a joke, keep busy with her poetry and card-making crafts, and tell stories,” Lengelle said.
“When I first got her on the phone, she said that she was a bit ‘crazy’ and that she would try not to take me down to her level … She published many fun and funny poems reflecting this spirit.”
Dr. Angie Abdou, another of Daley’s professors, will remember her for her “enthusiasm for lifelong learning.”
“I loved working with her and seeing her adapt to new technologies and find innovative ways to share her stories. She stands out as a highlight in my decades of teaching, and I will miss her.” Abdou said.
Daley is survived by her four daughters, 19 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.