A Tribute to Dr. Cindy Symons: ASHA Past-President and Academic Mother

A Tribute to Dr. Cindy Symons: ASHA Past-President and Academic Mother

Submitted by Elizabeth A. Whitney, PhD CHES, ASHA Board Member and Co-Chair of Research and Publications Committee

Dr. Cindy Symons, Past ASHA President

Google: ‘legacy’

Google + Merriam-Webster:  legacy noun; something that is or may be inherited.

If I’m being honest, I was terrified to write this article.  Honored, but terrified.  How could one possibly begin to describe THE Cindy Symons’ legacy?  Here are a few initial thoughts swirling around my brain:

Should I start by gathering a list of her peer-reviewed works, other scholarly outputs?

Identify and describe her teaching accomplishments, awards, and other accolades?

Describe and delineate the significant and prominent roles she assumed in dedication and service to the American School Health Association and to the field of school health?

Reach out to her former students and colleagues for their input/ideas?

No, no… scratch that.

That’s not how I would define Cindy’s legacy.

Rewind to 2009.  Insert Cindy as my doctoral advisor at Kent State University.  Truthfully, ‘advisor’ always sounded way too formal – so I renamed her role to ‘academic mother.’ That was more apt.  Looking back, here’s what I remember most from that time (2009 – 2013)

  • Kitchen table conversations (yes, about the dissertation but not always), delicious spaghetti, lots of belly laughs and anecdotes between she and Dick (major relationship goals those two).
  • Saturday morning student teacher seminars at the kitchen table – you heard that right, Saturday. 9AM.
  • Walks together through the park/on trails/outside – nature’s therapy.
  • Phone calls to get through crises – mine, not hers, and yes – more than one I can remember.
  • Countless introductions to really important people – insert sweaty hands.
  • Our preferred greeting – “word.” Not hello, good morning, what’s up, – just “word.”
  • Car rides and conversations on our way to do student teaching supervision, other meetings, etc. – some of these places were a good 30 – 40 minutes away.
  • Fishing rodeos in the Symons’ backyard – yes, there were fish caught during fishing rodeos.

I remember more but we don’t have the space in this article.  Suffice it to also suggest that while I might be purposely selecting some memories over others (disclaimer – doctoral study is challenging, frankly annoying at times, makes you question your life choices, and sometimes just plain stinks – you are not alone if you feel this way) now is a good time to get to my point – Cindy’s legacy was the gift of human connection; of time and investment in building relationships.  There is no doubt she was a phenomenal educator.  Scholar.  Giver of wisdom.  She was a beautiful person.  But to truly honor what I believe was Cindy’s gift – people to people kinds of things – I’d be remiss not to point this out in my memories.

I’ll share with you a message Cindy sent me a few months ago, her words, verbatim.  She said,

“…It’s likely that over time your priorities and interests could change, but your years of experience have taught you what’s important and you are delivering on those things AND there is the bonus of enjoying the work.  It came as a shock to me when I figured out that if I just kept my head down and remained true to what I knew was important, I did good work and was happy.”  I wonder if she knew that those words were exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear them, and not a minute sooner.  What I would give to have another conversation with her.

Like many of you reading this article, the news of Cindy’s passing was hard.  Some of you were frankly stunned (don’t take it personally, Cindy was a deeply private person).  It left me feeling angry at the Universe for calling her back and taking her from us.  In my eyes, she was not done.  Grief sucks.  But, also like many of you reading this article I find comfort in the memories, like the kitchen table ones (emphasis intendedthose who know, know).  The person-person contact time Cindy gave to me, the words (literally and figuratively, she was quite the linguist) she used to express herself and the infinite wisdom tied up in her stories were all immeasurable forms of impact.  Her legacy, therefore, should be remembered by the way she made us feel – loved, valued, and seen.   Cindy’s legacy lives on in those of us who were fortunate enough to have known her as an academic mother (the great sisterhood); or as colleague, friend, sister, spouse or student.  She just made you want to be a better human.  We could all stand to be a little more human-like, or should I say Cindy-like these days.

She will be deeply missed.

I can think of no better way to sum up what I believe to be Cindy’s legacy than by finding some form of an appropriate quote or statement to leave you with, so here goes:

“People will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, But people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Seems to me now is as good a time as any (during a global pandemic) to take a step back from your work for just a moment and consider your own legacy script.  What would you want it to say?  Inserting my own opinion here; if we’ve learned anything from a time in which we are being forced to slow down, “pivot,” and face “unprecedented” challenges ahead (two words I do not want to hear after this pandemic are pivot and unprecedented) let it be that we do as Cindy suggests and remain true to what we believe is important – whatever that means to you…

I will forever be grateful for the experiences that I shared with Cindy and hope you honor her legacy in your own way as I have.