I went to a lot of conferences last year, and made a surprising number of friends who have changed my life. But one conference really stands out. At eResearch Australasia my friend Sam asked me to host a panel. He introduced me, among other things, as a good friend and a massive nerd, which I owned with pride. But on that panel were two people who went on to become deeply important to me amazingly fast.
The panel was on the Wednesday, so Tuesday night I showed up to the drinks reception hoping to meet all of my panellists and plan out the way the conversation would go the next day. Two of them proved elusive, but I found Jacky almost immediately. We started talking and basically didn’t stop for the next 7 months. Until the day she died.
I remember being struck by Jacky’s robust, evidence-based approach to diversity in STEM, and to her profoundly human-centred focus on matters of technology.
The next day Jacky delivered a keynote for the conference where she included me in her slides as an example of someone working to improve diversity in STEM. She introduced me as “My new best friend, Linda McIver,” but even then I didn’t realise how true that was going to be.
Jacky found me on WhatsApp and we started chatting. Intrigued by my description of my kids, Jacky soon established a WhatsApp group for all of us, together with her partner, Rachel, and these two people my kids have never actually met in person became incredibly important supports for us.
It’s not uncommon for me to bond fast with a new friend, but it’s not so common for the new friend to bond back just as intensely. Jacky was not one to waste a moment. Her ability to connect with people was phenomenal, and she devoted much of her energy to supporting everyone around her. When Jacky decided she valued someone, there was no doubt, no grey area. She gave so generously to her loved ones.
She wasn’t shy about wielding the frying pan of enlightenment where necessary though. I was going back through our messages yesterday and couldn’t help noticing the high proportion of them that were either telling me I’m awesome or berating me for not valuing myself highly enough.
She was a huge advocate for my work, and she pushed me hard to charge more for my time, and to make sure I never undersold myself or my talents. Which is a little bit ironic because I don’t think she ever really recognised how precious and amazing she was herself, despite us telling her on a regular basis.
Last Thursday night I was busy typing a message to Jacky telling her, again, how amazing she was, when I got a message from Rachel that stopped my heart. Out of nowhere Jacky had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage. She was gone.
My kids and I are devastated. Jacky’s constant, calm, supportive, funny, loving presence in our lives became integral so fast, and even faster it has been snatched away. I go through waves of tears, bursts of rage, and periods of an unnatural calm, but I can’t come to grips with the idea that she is gone. That she never even met my people face to face, but they loved her so deeply, is a testament to Jacky’s intense ability to love and connect.
We talked about visiting, both here and there. We talked about the things we would do, the sights we would show each other. The experiences we’d share. We had plans for the future that, unaccountably, failed to take into account that there might not be one.
Jacky leaves behind a vast collection of people who love and appreciate her. Reading back through our messages I can tell we made it clear to her how important she was to us. I hope she knew how important she was to the world, because her loss leaves a gaping hole that simply can’t be filled.