Friday, April 4, 2014

Dr. Priscilla Renouf

It's a terribly sad day here.  I woke up to word that Dr. Priscilla Renouf passed away early this morning.  Priscilla was one of my MA thesis supervisors at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  The opportunity to learn from Priscilla was one of the biggest reasons that I came to Newfoundland and Labrador to study.  The experience that I had at MUN under her guidance and the opportunities that she provided to me after I graduated convinced me to stay.

When I entered the program at MUN, it was a little different than today.  The Archaeology Unit was part of the Anthropology Department and was composed of faculty from anthropology, geography, history, and folklore.  There was no PhD program and the year I started, 1996, there were only three other graduate students starting their MA, and I was Priscilla's only new student.  I can still remember my first visits to her office in the Ingstad Building where she would open up drawer after drawer full of incredible Palaeoeskimo artifacts from her work at Port au Choix.  Priscilla invested a lot of time and guidance into her students.  Her MA students would compare notes with each other after our meetings and often it seemed like we were supervised by completely different people.  She knew what each of her students needed and gave us the guidance, or patience, or criticism that we needed when we needed it.  She didn't try to fit us into her mold, she tailored her supervisory style to fit our personalities and challenges.  The relationship that develops between a student and supervisor is something that stays with you throughout your life.  Priscilla followed all of her students with pride throughout their careers and in turn, we graduate student siblings, celebrated with her during her many academic and personal triumphs.

I always meant to tell a story about Priscilla from the field when she retired, but she passed too early, before she could savour the sort of retirement that archaeologists enjoy, working on the problems and papers that they never had the time to explore earlier.  In 1997, when I did my fieldwork in Burgeo, Priscilla was the sponsor on my permit application from the Provincial Archaeology Office.  I had to check in with her midway through the season, so I took everything that I had found and drove up to see her on the northern peninsula.  I stayed for a week and when I got there she was looking through the local paper, the Northern Pen, at a story they had just been published on her field season at Port au Choix.  It was accompanied by a terrible photo of her.  A really, really bad photo, like she was caught in the middle of a sneeze or something.  She, like anyone, was mortified and probably would have thrown out all the copies she could find, save for the fact that the incorrect name was printed in the caption.  She was unrecognizable in the picture and misidentified in the caption, so the plan became to just say nothing about it for the week and hope that no one outside the crew would even realize who the crazy person in the photo was.  She endured the week.  I helped out around the site and she gave me the feedback I needed on my own project and just as I was about to leave town, the new Northern Pen arrived. It was full of new photos and new stories and no one would ever remember that horrid old photo.  Except... the paper had caught the error in the caption and reprinted the photo, now with sincere and bold apologies to Dr. Priscilla Renouf for their mistake in misidentifying her the first time around.

I so wanted to find those two editions of the paper and bring them out at her retirement.  This just isn't the same.  I'm going to miss her greatly and I know that all her former and current students, colleagues, friends, and family will too.

The Globe and Mail, April 23, 2014: Priscilla Renouf dug up clues to Newfoundland's early history.

Inside Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology, April 14, 2014: Dr. Priscilla Renouf

Government of Canada SSHRC Press Release, April 7, 2014: Passing of Council Member Priscilla Renouf

Canadian Press (MetroNews): Respected Newfoundland Archaeologist Dies

VOCM News: Celebrated Archaeologist Passes Away

House of Assembly; Statement by the Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation, April 7, 2014 Renowned Archaeologist Remembered for her Outstanding Contributions:

The Telegram, April 4, 2014: MUN Mourns Loss of Archaeologist Priscilla Renouf

MUN.CA: This week I was going to write about other things, but I am sadly distracted today by the passing of a colleague, Dr. Priscilla Renouf by Dr. Noreen Golfman

In Memorium: Priscilla Renouf

Caul's Funeral Home: Dr. Priscilla Renouf

Photo Credit:


  1. Very sad day indeed. Thanks for sharing your fond memories with us!

  2. Thanks for sharing that Tim. I hope others will also come forward with personal stories of Priscilla that will help us smile, as this is a terribly sad day.

  3. I completed one undergraduate course on campus with Dr. Renouf but she inspired me enough to remember her all these years and to truly regret her passing. I found her to be professional and yet compassionate as she challenged us to complete our course assignments and programs. Future students will miss the opportunity to know a great teacher and person. One amusing story I remember from my class was when she talked about a well loved family member and how that person always had wanted to attend one of her classes ... with that she tipped out a box of bones and said I'd like you to meet .... (family name). She probably laughed the hardest, viewing the expressions on our faces; it was a great joke on anthropology novices such as ourselves. RIP Dr. Renouf.

  4. Dr. Renouf taught me my first anthropology course. I found it so interesting I dropped out of engineering the next semester. I've been working in or studying archaeology ever since. Sad day indeed.

  5. My wife, Rosemary Gales and I spent two eyars working in Newfoundland with Priscilla's sister, Deane. We got to know the Renouf family and met Priscilal on numerous occasions. I remember discussing our island home, Tasmania, and our native peoples, the Palawa. Its with deepest sadness we recieved the news but hold dear the memories of both Priscilal and Deane, both their wisdoms flow to our southern island home.
    Doozie Pemberton


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