`Herculean' effort keeps Senate ticking

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

A task of Herculean proportions is how some members of Senate describe it.

Fran Medley just calls it her job.

As assistant secretary of Senate for almost three decades, Medley is regarded as the keeper of all knowledge, according to Registrar and Secretary of Senate Richard Spencer.

"The help she gives is rock solid," he says. "She provides wisdom and a steady hand and does it with good humor, too."

Medley is responsible for a wealth of detail critical to the orderly running of Senate. Since 1969, she has prepared the agenda and minutes of Senate and a number of its committees.

Meeting deadlines, keeping extensive records and having a knowledge of Senate precedent are critical. Since faculty elects a new Senate every three years, Medley provides much-needed continuity, Spencer says.

But she almost didn't take the job.

In 1967, Medley, recently arrived in Canada from Yorkshire, was advised by a neighbor not to take a job at UBC because "they don't pay much."

She decided to find out for herself.

Her first job was in the Ceremonies Office. After two years, she moved to her current position, a job she has held for 29 years. Medley finds that the interaction with people is the best part of the job.

"You have to be a good listener -- you need to feel empathy."

Her mother instinct gets triggered, Medley says, when she works with the 17 student senators elected each year.

MP Svend Robinson was a UBC student senator in the early to mid-70s, a time of student unrest. Medley recalls him as an eloquent advocate for students; Robinson recalls her as an inspirational guide.

"She went out of her way to lead me through every nook and cranny of the process -- receiving that kind of support meant a lot to me," he says.

He admired Medley's ability to navigate her way through the academic politics of the time -- complexities that made Parliament seem like a piece of cake by comparison, he says.

An admitted stickler for accuracy, Medley says the biggest challenge of the job is keeping the records straight for the nine Senate meetings held each year.

Packages of documents can contain as many as 150 pages. Medley has developed an indexing system that allows her to answer queries quickly -- an activity she prides herself on.

Expertise in organizing information has also helped Medley in her studies. A part-time student at UBC since 1989, she is just finishing the third year of a bachelor's degree in English.

"It was what I always wanted to do because I felt I'd missed something."

Taking regular classes with students who are about the same age as her grandchildren keeps her feeling young, she says.

The Alma Mater Society gave Medley a Just Desserts award in 1995 in recognition of her support to students. She has also received a 75th Anniversary Medal and the President's Service Award for Excellence.

At the May Senate meeting she was presented with a certificate of merit by President Martha Piper and a watch from the student senators.

Medley retires in October.