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Published on April 8th, 2021


Tribute to Elaine (Heaton) Siemens

Written by: Megan Hodge

Author’s Note: Several sources were used in preparing this tribute. These include memories collected from friends and former colleagues of Elaine by Linda Mikus and records available in the History of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology in Canada: Our First Fifty Years (Martin, 2011), as well as archives of the previous national association newsletter “Hear Here.” Virginia Martin also graciously contributed her editorial expertise.

Elaine (Heaton) Siemens, a much-loved colleague, friend and preeminent champion of the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology in Canada, passed away on December 23, 2020. Her many and sustained contributions from the late 1960’s through the 1990’s significantly influenced the growth and practice of the professions at local, provincial and national levels and are unique in the history of the profession in Canada (Martin, 2011).

Elaine was born on August 15, 1943 in Congleton, England. She received her professional training at the West End Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery Speech Therapy Training College in London and received her Licentiate of the College of Speech Therapists (London) in 1964. Elaine and her first husband, David Heaton, moved to Edmonton in 1967 where she launched a stellar career of 33 years at the Glenrose Hospital. She arrived shortly after the 1966 opening of the Glenrose School Hospital, which had the mandate to provide comprehensive health care and education for children with physical disabilities or emotional problems in the northern half of Alberta. Elaine held positions of supervisor of speech pathology for the School Hospital and later Director of the Department of Communication Disorders at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. She took a short leave in 1970-71 to complete a master’s degree in speech pathology at the University of Montana.

Elaine’s visionary leadership at the Glenrose in the 1970’s and 1980’s resulted in many ‘firsts’ or ‘near firsts.’ Examples include establishing an innovative preschool program for children with hearing impairment, a multidisciplinary pediatric feeding and swallowing service, several clinical research positions to promote her forward-looking view of interweaving clinical practice, the Voice and Resonance Clinic staffed by Department clinicians who worked in collaboration with consultant Dr. Frank Wilson (at that time, Dean of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta), a well-equipped clinical speech science laboratory, and the Assistive Device Service, which subsequently developed into the internationally recognized I CAN Centre for Assistive Technology.

Elaine’s commitment to serving the profession was evident from the outset. Between 1968 and 1970 she was vice-president and then president of the recently formed Speech and Hearing Association of Alberta (SHAA). She served as the chair of a joint annual convention of SHAA and the national association (Canadian Speech and Hearing Association or CSHA) in 1970 and again in 1981. Throughout her career she remained a constant and guiding presence at SHAA annual conferences asking always polite, measured, and penetrating questions at the general meetings. As one colleague recalled: “When Elaine spoke, everyone paid attention and when she finished the room was abuzz.”

Elaine’s colleagues soon recognized her leadership potential and between 1972-1974 she served on the executive of CSHA as President Elect, President and Past President. During this time and into 1975 she remained integrally involved in the affairs of the national association in her roles as interim editor for its professional journal, Human Communication, and then as the founding editor of the national newsletter Hear Here. The purpose of the latter was to keep the growing membership informed of association business on a regular basis. Elaine developed a publication format for Hear Here that included association and professional news, clinical columns, exchanges of opinions on professional matters as well as articles on supervision and research in its eight issues per year. The clinical columns ‘The Clinicians’ Turn’, ‘Current Canadian Clinical Concept’s’ and ‘Ruminations’ provided a unique view of clinical practice in speech-language pathology and audiology across Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. Here Hear became a popular and valued communication among professionals working in Canada that was prepared by a volunteer team of coordinators and authors under Elaine’s leadership. George Mencher, who served as chair of CSHA publications committee and later as president in 1976-77, became a long-time colleague and friend of Elaine’s beginning with their work in building up the Canadian Speech and Hearing Association.  During Elaine’s tenure as editor of Hear Herethe CSHA membership went from 283 in 1975 to 1000 in 1982. George wrote:

“She was a remarkable person of great talent.  She was quick of mind and thoroughly dedicated to her profession, her program, and her friends…. She was not only a colleague… Elaine was a dear friend, a super person and the ultimate professional.  We were lucky to have her with us and will miss her vitality and smile for a long time to come.”

In the 1980s, Elaine continued to serve the association and professions as a member of the first two task forces in the rehabilitation professions (speech-language pathology and audiology, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy). These task forces were coordinated by Eve Kassirer and brought together professionals from each discipline and a consumer representative who met over several years with the long-term goal to improve the quality of health services. The task forces made significant contributions including publication and distribution of two foundational documents: Clinical Guidelines in Language-Speech Pathology and Audiology (1980) and Guidelines for the Practice of Language-Speech Pathology (1982). During the 1980’s Elaine also served as a member of the national association’s Certification and Accreditation Boards.

Elaine’s contributed her many skills and extensive expertise beyond Canada. She was an international delegate to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Legislative Council in the 1980s and was made an ASHA Fellow in recognition of her outstanding professional contributions. In 1983 she became a founding and sustaining member of the International Society of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (ISAAC), which had as its stated purpose to improve the communication abilities and quality of life of individuals with complex communication needs. Elaine’s passion for this population also resulted in a very fruitful, long-term collaboration between the Glenrose and Dr. Albert Cook, also a founding member of ISAAC and at that time, a professor in rehabilitation engineering at California State University – Sacramento. In 1986 Elaine took a six month leave to pursue advanced post graduate work under Dr. Cook’s mentorship. Later, she was influential in convincing him to apply for the position of Dean of the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta in 1994, a position which he held for 13 years. While Dr. Cook was instrumental in helping Elaine to realize her dream of a word class assistive device service at the Glenrose, she also contributed much service to the Faculty, culminating in graciously agreeing to provide leadership to the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology by serving as interim chair for several months in 2000 and thereby adding successful academic administrator as a footnote to her vitae just before retiring.

Elaine received many professional accolades over her career. In 1979 she was awarded the Honours of the Association of the Speech and Hearing Association of Alberta. In 1980, she was one of two recipients along with Jean (Ward) Walker to be awarded the first CSHA Medal for Outstanding Achievement (1980). The text of the resolution cited in bestowing the award (paraphrased below) aptly and eloquently describes Elaine: 

Elaine Heaton has served CSHA with unparalleled competence, dedication, loyalty and love. In her tenure as President of the Association she employed consummate skill in quiet leadership. As founding Editor of Hear Here she greatly facilitated communication among the members of the Association. The qualities with which she graces our Association are mirrored in her professional life as a speech-language pathologist, thereby enriching the lives of all with whom she works. (Here Hear, May 1980, Vol. IV, No. 3, p.143).

In recognition of her continued history of dedicated and distinguished service to the national association and to the professions over her career Elaine most fittingly became the first recipient of the CASLPA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.

In addition to her remarkable contributions to and influence on the course of the growth of the professions, our enduring memories of Elaine will be of her humanity and humility. She cared deeply for her clients and colleagues for whom she worked countless ‘miracles’ to make the seemingly impossible become life-changing possibilities. Her ability to recognize the strengths in others and match these with opportunities for them to build on these to achieve personal and professional goals were hallmarks of her supervisory and leadership styles. Her encouraging smile, supportive nature, discerning intellect, clarity of vision and positive, ‘can do’ attitude enabled and inspired many others to also achieve extraordinary accomplishments and earned her the deep trust and respect due those who truly lead by example. Notwithstanding her many talents, achievements and awards, Elaine remained ‘an unassuming heroine’ of the profession and above all, a lovely, kind and generous person.

Sadly, Elaine’s first husband David passed away in 1999. In her retirement years she had the good fortune to meet Jerry Siemens while volunteering at the Glenrose. They later married and moved to Victoria where they enjoyed many happy years and Elaine took on what was likely her most cherished lifetime role, that of dearly loved stepmother and grandmother.

In summary, a friend and colleague wrote:

“Elaine’s many and varied contributions to the professions with her clinical and administrative work at the Glenrose and her influential dedication to the professional associations in Canada over her 33-year career – especially her role in bringing the early CSHA members across Canada together via publications – will be remembered with appreciation and gratitude.”   

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