Remembering Dr. Karen Kobayashi
June 10, 2022
BY Krista James and Laura Tamblyn Watts
We are very sad to announce the loss of a dear CCEL friend, one of our founding Distinguished Fellows, Dr. Karen Kobayashi. Karen was a professor in the University of Victoria Department of Sociology and Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies) of the Faculty of Social Sciences. She was also a research fellow with the Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health at the University of Victoria.
Karen cared deeply about social justice and about people. She invested her time, energy, considerable intellect – as well as her heart and soul – in understanding the lived impacts of inequity. A dynamic and passionate optimist, Karen truly believed that individual actions matter. She was the first to volunteer to help, to mentor, to create an event, or lift someone’s work up. A natural leader and keynote speaker, she never just rested in her well-deserved spotlight. Karen actively worked to create opportunities for others to advance and shine.
Karen was one of CCEL’s strongest allies in bridging divides amongst community, academia, and law reform worlds. She consistently supported us to bring our work into academic circles, inviting us to collaborate, supporting our funding applications, and raising awareness about CCEL work. Most recently we collaborated with her to develop a project on Consent to Participate in Research for People Living with Dementia. When we presented the project idea to her, she immediately appreciated the importance of the work and reached out to pull in other partners and find the right funder for this work. She was the strategic catalyst who moved us from idea to reality. She understood the challenges we faced as a small non-profit and generously leveraged her relationships and her time to enable us to participate in this work.
We loved to work with Karen for so many important reasons. But at the core, because she recognized that all good research and law reform must engage both the most vulnerable people in our communities and the community agencies already doing good work on the ground. Her own work centred the voices of ethnocultural minority populations, particularly Japanese Canadian older adults. She taught her students to include historically invisible populations and advocated for intersectional and critical approaches that addressed structural barriers and discrimination. As a leader in knowledge mobilization in research, particularly through AGE-WELL, she taught other research professionals how to meaningfully engage communities across the lifecourse of an initiative. She passionately rallied against disingenuous end-of-project engagement approaches and made sure that none of her projects ended up on a dusty shelf. Karen ensured that good work included real impact and positive change
Karen was a frequent and popular speaker at CCEL events, and she presented at both the Canadian Elder Law Conference and our International Women’s Day events. In 2015-2016 we collaborated with Karen on a project focused on Elder Abuse in Chinese and South Asian Communities.
Last year we recorded this video with Karen and others to discuss our most recent research collaboration.
The CCEL will continue to honour Karen’s memory by incorporating her personal and professional insights into our values and work. She will be missed, but never forgotten. We are all better for having her in our personal and professional lives.