Monday, December 28, 2015

Saying goodbye is always hard

Debbie Alvarez at Bradbury School

About five years ago I discovered and started following @stylinlibrarian on Twitter and started reading her blog.  Her book reviews formed the basis of much of the collection I was developing for a new school. We started commented on each other's blogs and started conversing on Twitter. Her passion for children's literature was palpable and her reverence and respect for the authors of these books was also very apparent. We got to know each other virtually over about 8 months, and then she tweeted something that got me very excited. She had accepted a position in Hong Kong in the school system I was working in. Finally I was going to meet and hopefully work with this legend.

Debbie brought her family and dog across to Hong Kong ready for a new adventure and they hit the ground running, exploring all the fun things to do in the city and region. It was fun for me to read her blog entries on the city I had been a long term resident of.

One day I received a call from Deb asking how to deal with speeding up the cataloging of non English books, and how to get the records using SCIS, the Australian Schools Cataloguing service which she had never used before. I was thankful I was able to help her out with both. The blog post on Chopac was created as part of my efforts to help her with these issues.

We finally met face to face at one of the local school librarians meet ups. I still remember how excited I was that she was in Hong Kong and that we were meeting in person. At this particular meeting it was brought up that it might be good for the English Speaking Schools to create a book awards, similar to those found in Singapore, China and Japan.

Of course Deb was right onto that, volunteering immediately to be on the working group to get this up running. It took about 6 months of planning, and in the year of 2013 the Golden Dragon Awards had been born with the main driver behind the organisation and structure being Deb. It was about this time that she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent surgery. All the while still working full time, reading and blogging and setting up these awards.

She attended an IB librarians workshop I facilitated in HK, being very willing to share her knowledge of setting up a PLN as a participant contributor. She was interested in pursuing being an IB workshop leader before her first occurance of cancer. I am very sad to that she never had that opportunity to share her experiences and knowledge in a more formal way. We all would have benefited greatly from this.

Doug and Deb enjoyed swing dancing, it was in fact how they met, and there was a regular swing dancing meet-up in Hong Kong. My husband and I wanted to learn, so we asked if they would accompany us to one of these meet-ups. We all went along and had a lovely time. That evening Deb indicated that she was waiting on a biopsy results for a possible re-occurrence of cancer, which she would receive the next day and why she may be a little preoccupied.

She was unfortunately given bad news the next day and we never had the opportunity to do a double date again due to time and energy restraints which accompanied all our lives, but particularly hers as she battled the cancer. This was the time she went public with her illness on her blog "life's Journey interrupted" where she shared her daily struggles and wins with cancer. 

Through the out the whole time she was undergoing treatment, Deb would continue to attend the local librarian meetings where possible, and still maintained a driving  force behind the Golden Dragon Awards. Whatever Deb committed to, she committed 150 percent of her energy to, even when she was quite ill. It seemed she just added dealing with her illness on the to do list, rather than letting it consume her and her life.

I am so glad that Deb, Doug and Declan came to Hong Kong and even though their time in Hong Kong was not always the optimal experience as her health deteriorated, Deb has left a legacy here, as she did everywhere she has been. I was and still am in awe of one of the most energetic and tenacious people I have ever known, her blog posts and book reviews will continue for a few months after her death illustrating just how much passion she had for what she did and how organised she was. There have been numerous tributes on Twitter, Facebook and in her local Oregon Newspapers to an amazing woman, teacher librarian, mother, wife and writer from all over the world.  I am so glad I had the opportunity to know her professionally, virtually and personally. Some people make the world a better place just by being in it, and she was one of those people.  I am not sure that she had a complete understanding of how high people held her in their esteem, but I do hope she had an inkling before she passed away. Even though physically she was petite, she was a giant in so many ways.

My condolences and sadness reach out to Doug, Declan and her family as their pain, sadness and loss will be felt even stronger than myself and the community she left behind in Hong Kong and across the world.

The launch of the Golden Dragon Awards in HK (Deb second from the left)

1 comment:

Pia Alliende said...

Thank you Dianne for this blog entry. A beautiful way of honoring a person who gave it all until the end. I didn´t know Debbie, but the way you wrote about her,made me feel like I was a close friend of her, and regret I have missed her insightful blogs and twists. Love and peace into your corner of the world.