In Memory of Dorothy Ellen Ayers Counts

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The members of the Anthropology department were saddened to learn of the passing of one of its most distinguished and productive retired members, Dorothy Counts. The following obituary nicely captures what an extraordinary life she lived:

Dorothy Ellen Ayers Counts
08 January 1937 – 27 October 2018

Dorothy came into this world on 08 January 1937 in San Antonio, Texas, and departed on 27 October 2018 in Victoria, British Columbia after a prolonged struggle with Alzheimer’s. She made the transition easily and peacefully surrounded by the love of her family.

Her life was one of adventure, joy, love, and laughter, embraced with open arms and a full heart in the company of David, her husband, partner, and companion of 62 years. Their home was always open to friends and family of all ages to drop in for a coffee, a beer, a meal, an overnight, or a month. She was an avid reader, a decent pianist, an indifferent housekeeper, and a political activist — from her involvement in the civil rights movement in Texas in 1957 right through to membership in the Raging Grannies in British Columbia 50+ years later. She was a feminist long before the word entered common parlance.

Dorothy had a lifelong passion for the outdoors, and was never happier than when she was hiking, camping, and exploring, alone or in the company of friends, especially in the mountains. She was active for many years in the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies (camp 4!), and was also a founding member of the Tough Old Birds and the ProfNerds, informal groups of like-minded women who loved wilderness adventures.

What defined Dorothy the most and shaped her entire life was her intellect. As a Professor (and later retired Distinguished Professor Emerita) of Anthropology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, she was a dedicated teacher, scholar, and mentor to many young academics. Her field research in West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, spanned 50 years, and she developed a deep love and respect for the people of Kandoka village, who she regarded as members of her family. She authored and edited many academic publications, including nine books, and did groundbreaking work in cross-cultural perspectives on domestic violence and aging, and on the RV-ing phenomenon in North America, among other topics. Dorothy was a committed and active member of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO), serving on the Board for several years, and was distinguished by organizing and participating in more ASAO sessions than anyone else in the history of the organization. In recognition of her contributions, she was named Honorary Fellow of ASAO, a rare distinction and honour. Her professional legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Dorothy is survived by her husband David, children Rebecca (Tim), Bruce (Anita), Riley (Kayte), and Stephen (Beth), grandchildren Caitlin (Tyler), Lowell (Anne), Shawn (Bev), and Stephen (Kristine), and great-grandchildren Scarlett, Olivia, and most recently, on September 11 2018, little Dorothy Ellen.

In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be made to Médicins sans Frontières, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, or the Alzheimer’s Society.

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