Margo Van der Touw did more than just a job at Northwest Community College.
Prior to losing her hard-fought battle to cancer Oct. 28 at the age of 56, the college’s former dean of trades, business, workforce training and continuing studies worked to secure a $600,000 federal grant to revamp the college’s heavy equipment operator program at a time when a labour shortage in that field loomed over the northwest – one of many examples of how Van der Touw’s work will touch the lives of students despite her passing.
Those who knew her well say Van der Touw always saw miles ahead like that. Driven by a desire to see students succeed, she is described as a woman who always looked at the big picture, knew what was coming, and had the knowledge and contact base to make her visions a reality.
“In northwestern B.C. we need more people like that that make things actually happen on the ground,” said Alice Maitland, NWCC’s regional director for Hazleton’s campus who worked closely with Van der Touw on many projects over the years.
Van der Touw was hired by NWCC in November of 2004 as the director of continuing and international education before becoming the dean of trades, business, workforce training and continuing studies in 2006.
She created outreach programs, continuing education programs and access programs with a focus on reaching out to First Nations communities, said Maitland, adding her most cherished project during her eight years with the college was NWCC’s School of Exploration and Mining.
“That was her baby,” said Maitland.
The school’s birth happened in partnership with the Smithers Exploration Group, and has received awards like the 2009 Mining and Sustainability Award and the Mentor Award from the Mining Association of British Columbia in conjunction with the province. In 2010, the school won the Premier’s Innovation and Excellence Award from the Conference Board of Canada and International Partnership Network.
“Margo was a tenacious champion for students. She possessed both strength and compassion and had an unending supply of energy,” said NWCC’s vice president of education Beverly Moore-Garcia.
Van der Touw also served on the board of directors for the Contaminants Remediation Training Organization of Canada and was president of the Continuing Education and Training Association of British Columbia.
In her youth, Van der Touw first earned a living singing and playing guitar as a busker in downtown Vancouver before returning to university as a mature student in her mid-twenties, earning a BA in history with a major in economics.
She worked various positions in the field of post-secondary education since graduating in 1988.
She is survived by two sons and husband Dave Sinclair, who has said if there were a theme to her life, it would be “go big or go home.”
“She was just absolutely brilliant,” said Sinclair, adding when she put her mind to something, it got done.
“She didn’t back down, didn’t take the easy way ever, she loved things when they were broken so she could fix them,” he said.
Despite a years-long battle with cancer her death came a surprise, he said.
She had recovered after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1996.
“And then, in August of 14, 2010 is when we discovered that she had some kind of growth at the top of her left leg.
“That was the start of this journey.”
At first, Van der Touw was told the tumour was inoperable and proceeded with chemo and radiation treatments.
“April 23, 2012 they finally did surgery on the tumour that was not supposed to be able to be removed surgically and the surgeon was able to take the whole thing out. So, at that point we thought halleluiah, she’s cancer free,” Sinclair said, adding although it came back aggressively, further treatments seemed to be working.
“There’s more too it than that as I’ve discovered. It was a huge shock to lose her,” he said.
At the college, Denis Caron is currently the interim dean of trades and of WTCS, applied business technology, business administration, and culinary arts.