Curiosity and the Magnificent Irene
By Jen Mossop-Scott | Published on 08.03.2019 (for International Women’s Day)
I’ve been thinking about a few themes that inform my own life and career as a technologist, leader, and as a woman in business – and they all happen to start with the letter C. The first is Curiosity.
So – I thought I’d give a little narrative about a very cool and inspiring role model in the realm of curiosity – someone who demonstrates beautifully how curiosity influences the shape of someone’s own life and the lives of others around them. It’s my Grandma; Jesse Irene Drysdale Shaver. Here’s a photo of her from 1911 – she’s in the middle with the ringlets. Awesome.
She was born in 1906 in a lone log cabin on the Canadian prairie, in rural Manitoba. Her grandparents and parents were pioneer homesteaders ‘settling the West’ in the 1800s: family tales tell of blinding blizzards and stable-high snowdrifts, and the challenges of keeping life and livestock intact through hard times and with limited means. But education – and curiosity – were stalwart and committed themes in their pioneering lives and Irene excelled at school. Unusually for (female) prairie teenagers of the time, she went on to College, qualified as a teacher and went on to study toward a BA.
Also unusually for her time and place, she was not for settling down. At least not immediately. By the time she married my grandfather aged 35 (and marrying at 35 was definitely an exceptional age in rural Manitoba in those days) she had taught for 12 years at schools across the province. And perhaps more impressively, she had cast out across the world on her own – first moving to the east coast of Canada for a year, and then leaving Canada altogether for a year of learning and teaching in Sheffield, UK. Here she is in front of one of her prairie school houses. Also awesome.
I’m pretty sure she was a great teacher because I know she was a brilliant storyteller – in fact it was her legendary storytelling skills that drew my grandfather to seek her out and to fall in love. When she married my grandfather (himself a keen intellect, philosopher, poet and church minister) the two of them united most particularly around intellectual and creative topics. They were each other’s sounding board for ideas and refinement.
She was a voracious reader, eating up literature, politics, poetry, philosophy, botanical studies, biography. When I knew her in her older age, I was always awed by her modest apartment, crammed full of books. She interacted with her grandchildren with a keen intelligence and implied assumption of intellectual parity that raised our minds and game. Her Christmas gifts to grandchildren – the opposite of lavish – were always books: beautifully and meticulously selected to stimulate our passions, our creativity and to stretch our imaginations that bit further.
Our own conversations with her about politics and literature, our intensely competitive games of Scrabble, our minute examination of the wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies… all of these were perhaps not appreciated enough by the kids that we were, for the curiosity-stimulators that they were. But her itch to keep learning, even into her very old age, and the delight with which she shared that curiosity with young and old was undoubtedly a bigger influence on me and my brothers than we knew.