After 42 years we bid a bittersweet farewell to Sandy Lapsky, Geography Administrator

How do you encapsulate a 42-year long career at a single workplace? One word sums it up for the department of Geography’s long-time head Administrator Sandy Lapsky – love. It’s not just Sandy’s love for the daily rhythms of this department that contributed to her longevity in her role, or her enjoyment of the challenging responsibilities a leader in her position takes on. Sandy’s love for her community and supporting others in meaningful ways has charted her course for over four decades. Former Head of Geography Dr. Olav Slaymaker describes the warmth Sandy brough to her role as Administrator over her long tenure: “Absolutely everyone feels comfortable in Sandy’s company. She radiates friendship and sincerity of heart”. 

“I’ve always had a great interest in people. As the years passed, I cared more deeply about our staff. I became more protective, more understanding. Gaining experience over the years, ways to support my staff and students became more intuitive. I loved motivating them, encouraging them, making them feel comfortable. That has brought me a lot of joy. It has been the most important aspect of my time here,” reflects Sandy. 

Initially arriving as an international student from Hong Kong, Sandy studied English at UBC. Not ready to return home after graduation, she began looking for a job and landed a secretarial position in the department of Geography in 1981. Hard working and tenacious, she seized any opportunity to advance through the ranks in the department. Throughout her early years, she enjoyed supporting exciting research, playing tennis with the graduate students, and building a warm, vibrant community. She even met her future husband Mark here in 1989, who was a lab technician in the department at the time. 

“One of my favourite memories is playing hockey with staff, faculty and students on Friday afternoons.  I had never skated but wanted to play on the team, so I learned how. Dr. Robinson was kind enough to practice hockey with me.  I attended hockey school one summer and was the only girl in the camp.  It was difficult for me to keep up, but most people were accommodating and generous, and I loved the attention,” remembers Sandy. 

Advancing as far as she could in the staff structure at Geography, Sandy moved on to explore other roles on campus for a couple years. After a short stint away, Sandy returned to Geography as head secretary, moving into the role of head Administrator in 1989. As a pioneering young woman in a leadership role, she was determined to create a welcoming culture in the department. An enormous fan of Spanish athlete Rafael Nadal, she adorned her office with posters of the rising tennis star. Alongside those she pinned up images of her favourite late-night talk show hosts, comedians and built up a notorious stash of cookies. These long-lived personal touches are legendary among faculty, staff and students.  

“Those posters bring a lightness to the workplace and are a small expression of my personality. I hope people walking into my office see them as a bit of an icebreaker. I want us to be interested in each other’s lives, to get to know each other,” Sandy explains. 

At a time when formal professional protocols were the norm, Sandy’s leadership style was a breath of fresh air. She swiftly became a trusted colleague and confidant to many students, staff and faculty. Forging lasting professional and personal relationships within the department and beyond has been a talent of Sandy’s. The ripple effect of her care and respect for others has shaped a robust community within Geography.  

“I feel I’m allowed to be me here. I can be silly, funny and approachable. Not what you typically expect of a ‘boss’. It’s been amazing. I feel loved. Having those positive feelings has made every day fun. It’s been a joy to come to work year after year,” she muses. 

Gracefully juggling the competing priorities of her role, from operational, financial and staff management, recording keeping, building and equipment maintenance to student and staff appointments, Sandy has done it all. Whether balancing a budget or remembering the favourite sweets of her colleague’s children, Sandy does everything with thoughtful kindness. As the nomination letter from the Geography Stellar Staff Award attests: 

“It is difficult to find the words to capture all of the ways in which Sandy has contributed to the life and work of the department over her many years with us. She has long been the department’s ‘memory’. More importantly, she has also been its conscience. Sandy is the very heart of this place.” 

Sandy won the Stellar Staff Award for the third time last year, garnering over 75 individual nominations. In 2014 she was awarded the prestigious UBC President’s Service Award for Excellence for her unwavering dedication to and care for her workplace and community.  

“I strive to treat everybody with the same care and attention. Looking at people as individuals I focus on their strengths, provide lots of communication and encouragement, ” she explains. 

Inspired by her own experience as a newcomer and international student, Sandy founded the Sandy Lapsky Award which recognizes outstanding international graduate students in Geography. She generously bestowed the seed funds in the hopes that the award will help soften the landing for international students and recognize their important work. 

“It has been an absolute privilege and a joy working with Sandy Lapsky over the past 11 years. Whether through unprecedented times or the ordinary day-to-day, she consistently prioritized the well-being of her staff with unparalleled benevolence and empathetic leadership. I will miss walking into her office and being welcomed by her lovely, approachable smile, but am excited for her as she embarks on her next chapter. I hope she enjoys every moment of her next adventure!” shares Connie Cheung, Geography’s Assistant to the Head. 

We look forward to seeing Sandy channel her boundless enthusiasm into pickleball lessons, trivia and more time with her family. We are deeply grateful for the innumerable contributions Sandy Lapsky has made to both the Department of Geography and the UBC community at large. Her generosity of time and spirit has been a true gift, and we endeavor to uphold her legacy. Congratulations on your retirement Sandy, you will be dearly missed and never forgotten.