Growing up in Nanaimo BC in the 1960s, Trudy Lionel competed in “Reach for the Top,” a nationally televised academic quiz competition for high school students. Fast forward five decades, and Trudy – who passed away in April – would endow a high school scholarship to give other budding chemists a chance to reach for the top.
The Lionel Scholarships – administered by the CIC Chemical Education Fund – are for students in financial need entering a program in chemistry, biochemistry or chemical engineering in Canada. Her drive to make a positive difference in others’ lives started early, says her sister.
“Quietly, on her own, Trudy began sponsoring a foster child overseas as soon as she started earning money as a graduate student,” recalls Michelle.
Trudy was not only a lifelong champion of humanitarian and social welfare causes, she was also a gifted scholar who skipped two grades. “She was my personal reference source in all things: When in doubt, ask a chemist,” says Michelle.
Trudy earned her B.Sc. at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, and her Ph.D. in chemistry from Vanderbilt University. She did a postdoctoral position performing electron spin resonance analysis on a variety of organic compounds at the National Research Council of Canada, and another at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, measuring the toxic emissions of kerosene heaters.
Her career took her to the San Francisco Bay area where she worked at Hewlett Packard developing a controlled process for the electrochemical manufacturing of printed circuit boards. She also worked at Genentech, with responsibility for managing the supplies and quality of all control material for its pharmaceutical products, and managed product stability for Bayer Pharmaceuticals.
Trudy took nine years off from paid work to be her children’s primary caregiver, a task that her husband Stephen Gerard says she excelled at. “As passionate as Trudy was about her career, she took her responsibility of raising our young children full time very seriously,” says Stephen. Juliana and Benjamin understood from an early age the importance of social justice and the gift of a curious mind.
Benjamin has fond memories of accompanying his mom once a week at the crack of dawn to cook and serve breakfast at a homeless shelter near their home in San Francisco. While he was initially drawn to the food, he says, he soon discovered that he enjoyed talking to the men in the shelter.
“As a 10-year-old, I saw and talked to many homeless men that were so nice and so friendly and had jobs and made jokes and seemed very approachable to me,” says Benjamin.
Trudy also raised her children to be inquisitive. Benjamin remembers coming home from trumpet lessons annoyed that his teacher was unable to answer his questions about why the instrument had to be played in a particular way – questions his teacher dismissed, telling him it was just the way it was done.
When he complained to his mother, she did something unexpected: “She encouraged me to continue asking questions,” he says. While it meant cycling through two or three trumpet teachers until he found one who shared his curiosity, it was worth the lesson his mother taught him.
“She had this strong sense of scientific inquisitive thinking that was definitely instilled in me at a young age,” he says.
Pointing to her many achievements – career, child-rearing, loving spouse, and friend – Stephen says his wife had “a strong commitment and determination for high achievement.”
“She battled cancer for three years with the same courage and determination that empowered her to generously donate gifts to others in need of assistance,” he says. “May her memory and legacy be a blessing to all who knew her.”