In Memoriam: Sue Williamson

Sue Williamson
Sue Williamson

I am deeply saddened to mark the loss of colleague Sue Williamson. Sue had been the graphic designer for Canadian Architect for over 20 years. She passed away on September 8, 2014, from complications related to lung cancer.

Sue began working with Southam in 1975, when she was hired from a temp agency as a typist. When she signed the two-week contract, little did she know that her entire career would be spent with the company. By September, she landed a full-time position in the publisher’s typesetting department.

Southam owned Canadian Architect at the time, and Sue began working on our magazine in April 1994. At the time, graphic material still arrived by postal mail, as photographs and slide transparencies that needed to be mechanically reduced. The all-digital era was still well in the future.

Sue adapted to the rapid changes in technology in the years to follow, sometimes goaded on by upgrades to her work environment: a window, a desk closer to the coffee machine. In time, her adeptness with Quark, and later InDesign, came to rival that of her younger colleagues. When obstacles arose, she tackled them with her characteristic stubbornness and good nature. I remember her elation after discovering an Illustrator shortcut that allowed all lines of the same weight to be selected at once. “It’s much faster now,” she declared: in the past she had painstakingly selected each line individually to adjust its width and tone.

While few in the architectural community will have met Sue, she was familiar with the work of many among us, from laying out hundreds of articles over the years. She took particular pride in her keen eye and deft hand with line drawings: editing out superfluous information, adjusting lines, and resetting text so that drawings would read crisply on the printed page.
Her meticulous attention to each story that fell under her watch was integral to every issue of Canadian Architect that has been published over the past two decades.

Although Sue would often say that “I’m not a designer, but I’m good with the details,” her desk was lined with design award certificates. Her art direction garnered multiple prizes and nominations in the Canadian Business Press’s annual Kenneth R. Wilson Awards.

Sue grew up in England, and carried her British feistiness, stoicism and wicked sense of humour with her until the end. She was full of pat phrases: “she’s fixed” for correcting an error, “onwards and upwards” for starting a new piece. Associate Editor Leslie Jen and I were addressed as the “ladies.” When a story was wrapped, she’d declare it (with a satisfied glance skyward) “a thing of beauty and a joy forever.” In the hundreds of e-mails and conversations we exchanged over the past two years, she unfailingly radiated positive energy and a desire to strive towards solutions rather than dwell on problems.

Sue’s cackling laugh, unmatchable energy, and unique personality will be very much missed by all of us at Canadian Architect who have had the pleasure and privilege to work with her.