Tim Thurston – A Tribute to My Red River College Counsellor

In 2015, I wrote this post on the 15th anniversary of my Red River College counsellor’s death. Tim Thurston died on October 1, 2000. He was 49 years old. After writing this post, I felt at peace. Finally, I could talk about Tim without breaking down. He made an impact on countless RRC students and staff. And we’re forever grateful for our Tim with time. 
There’s a sense of abandonment when a person dies.

You feel lost. Alone. Despondent. Shattered. Broken. Unable to continue.

October 1st, 2015 marks 15 years since my Red River College counsellor, Tim Thurston, died of a heart attack. He was 49.

On the first anniversary of Tim’s death, I wrote him a letter and poured out my feelings. How I was angry with him for dying. Mad he left me. Mad he was gone. Mad he wasn’t at my wedding.

Yeah, I was mad.

On the 15th anniversary, I’m paying tribute to Tim in another letter.

This is the reason I broke down in journalism as we discussed announcing deaths on social media. The reason “Fly and be Free” were in the credits of my Creative Communications documentary. And the reason I’m into boat models. I even have a similar (abet, much smaller) boat in a bottle as Tim had his office.
Dear Tim,

I’m no longer mad, but it’s still hard to believe your gone.

As time goes on though – I realize people don’t say “goodbye.” They just leave. They die. But maybe the words we need to hear aren’t “goodbye.”

Tim Thurston, undated photo. Credit, Winnipeg Tribune: Jon Thordarson

It hurt how I found out about your death. If we had Facebook or Twitter back then, maybe someone would’ve contacted me, and I won’t have missed your service. But we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter.

In 2000 – a poster on a bulletin board was our Twitter.

When I saw that poster – 11 days after your death – I bolted into Student Services and almost passed out. Your office was empty – and your boat in a bottle was gone.

“Sail your own ship, Tammy,” as you’d mildly nudge towards the bottle. “Ships aren’t meant to be anchored down.”

You reminded me of a slightly toned-down version of Sean Maguire – Robin Williams’ character from Good Will Hunting. You never held anything back. If you felt I needed to hear it – I was going to hear it. You were honest with me. That’s what I miss most – your blunt honesty.

When Robin Williams died – on my wedding anniversary in 2014 – I felt like I lost you again.

But you weren’t Sean Maguire. Or Robin Williams.

You were Tim Thurston. You liked George Carlin and the Blue Bombers. You used to play football, and turned to coaching.

You were my confidant, and we had serious conversations about world issues and politics. And some not so serious conversation about my silly crushes. You encouraged me. You cheered for me. You prepared me for my Creative Communications interview. You consoled me when I wasn’t accepted, but you weren’t one for pity-parties.

“Put this behind you and move on,” you said. “You can try again next year. Focus on what you can do now.”

Tim, you helped people see beyond their potential. You were human in a world where the majority of us are faking it. You entered my life on October 23, 1998 – when I felt lost, alone and invisible at Red River College. And you saw me laugh; saw me cry; made me laugh; and made me cry.

In my previous letter written on October 1, 2001, I was mad at you because you left me without saying goodbye.

Years later, I realize it’s not the goodbye that’s important.

You and I agreed to talk after fall exams. It was the end of September, and exams ran until mid-October. On September 28, 2000, I learned my math result, I raced to your office and through your door.

“Tim! I got my math mark.”

By the look on your face, and the expression on my face, you knew … this was good.


“B plus!”

“Yes,” you said, and you pumped both arms in the air, which caught me off guard. You were ecstatic and asked if I had time to talk. I plunked into the chair at the round table – where I sat after I learned about your death.

Our conversation began to wind down, and when I left your last words to me were: “Fly and be free.”

It took awhile, but I realized your final words meant more than goodbye.

Sometimes it’s not goodbye we need to hear, but it’s the person’s last words we should remember.

Anchors aweigh, Tim.