Your browser is no longer supported

To get the best experience, we suggest using a newer version of Internet Explorer/Edge, or using another supported browser such as Google Chrome.

'Today is the Day for Hugs': Lisa Sherlock Celebration of Life

May 29, 2024
Lisa Sherlock at Victoria College library.

(Photo by Peg McCarthy.)

By Leslie Shepherd

Friends, relatives and colleagues remembered Chief Librarian Lisa Sherlock at a Celebration of Life in Victoria College Chapel for her kindness, selflessness, friendship, wisdom and accomplishments—as well as her love of shoes and ability to buy the perfect gift. 

Sherlock, chief librarian of Victoria University Library since 2013, died in hospital on Victoria Day, May 20. 

One week later friends, colleagues and family filled the chapel to share memories and a few little-known facts. 

Victoria University President Rhonda McEwen said that Sherlock had all the qualities that are valued at Vic—“that kindness, that simple smile, that reaching out to make someone feel welcome and making them feel like they were already part of something bigger.”

McEwen recalled meeting Sherlock on her first day as president in the stairwell of the Goldring Student Centre, where she had paused to change out of her sneakers into shoes before a meeting in the Regent's Room.

“Up comes Lisa behind me and she said, ‘You must be Rhonda.’ And then she said, ‘Oh good, I’m about to change my shoes, too.’ We changed or shoes together on the stairwell and I thought, ‘I’m among my people.’” 

Former Vic U President Paul Gooch said that naming Lisa as chief librarian of Victoria University Library (E.J. Pratt Library, Emmanuel College Library and Victoria University Archives), was one of the best appointments he ever made “because of Lisa’s quiet, rock steady, uncompromised and intelligent devotion to her calling.” 

Sherlock spent almost her entire post-secondary education and professional life at Victoria University and the University of Toronto.  

She earned a BA in English from York University and a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences degree and a Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature in 2001 from the University of Toronto.  

She joined the E.J. Pratt Library in 1993 and became head of Reader Services in 1999. She became chief librarian in September 2013 and was responsible for building collaborative relationships with researchers, faculty, students and other communities of interest, with the shared goal of enhancing, preserving and promoting Vic’s world-renowned collections. These include collections by and about Willam Blake, E.J. Pratt, Northrop Frye, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, and John Wesley.  

Isabel Zhu told the Celebration of Life that Sherlock was both her mother and her friend. 

“To have a mother who is also a best friend is a rare thing and the effort she took to raise and care for me has ineffably shaped my character, aspirations, relationships, tastes, passions and values.” 

She described how her mother loved to travel so she could learn more about art and cross museums off her must-see list, including during a family trip to Italy in last winter. 

“She always moved onward and sought new and beautiful things, anything from clothes, shoes —she loved shoes — music and, most of all, new things to read and art to enjoy.” 

Zhu said her mother’s goal to visit all the major museums of the world was “a reflection of her lifelong commitment to the study, appreciation, production and consumption of culture and beauty.” 

“Through her work, she has left behind a self-evident material representation of both her skill as a scholar and her passion as a patron, chronicler and caretaker of the human capacity for creation,” she said. “I believe she achieved a sort of immortality in this way. Above all, her life was a confluence of the pursuits of beauty and joy.” 

Michelle Strople-Zimic revealed that her older cousin and dear friend has also been known as Tintin for the past 30 years, ever since Sherlock woke up in a hotel room they shared in Paris with a cowlick that resembled the European cartoon character.  

Strople-Zimic recalled the fun the cousins had together over the decades: going on shopping dates, attending concerts for “washed up ‘80s bands,” travelling, having lunch, visiting museums, simple dinners at one another’s homes and phone chats that were so long they required bathroom breaks. 

Sherlock was a people person and had enormous people skills. And she was funny. 

Strople-Zimic made an Advent calendar-like card for Sherlock to open for her birthday and Christmas in Italy. The seven envelopes described seven qualities she admired in her cousin: playful, quiet wisdom, genuine, accomplished, grace kindness and good listener. 

“Time with Tintin was always fun,” she said. “She often found humour in the smallest detail … Tintin was always a kind and thoughtful soul. … She genuinely cared about other people and was always a true friend. A kinder soul doesn’t exist. She extended her kindness and always saw the good in people. A chat with her always left me uplifted.” 

Many spoke of Sherlock’s sense of style—and that love of shoes. She hid shoes in her closet at work so her husband wouldn’t know how many she had. Her cousin said she was always cool and hip and even gave her wig a name: Moira. 

Sherlock was a good gift-giver. 

“Lisa was a genuinely good person and a special friend, open and accepting, easy to talk to, always interested in and considerate of others,” said Victoria College Principal Angela Esterhammer. “The only one of her accomplishments I can recall her mentioning with something like pride (was) her ability to choose presents for people. (She said) I’m an excellent gift giver …. And truly she was one of the best!” 

Larry Davies, former executive director of Alumni Affairs & Advancement, spoke of her “quiet calm demeanour and laser-like intellect, which always quickly helped uncover a solution to a problem that satisfied everyone. “He noted she helped guide Victoria’s libraries to national and international prominence. 

“Although not of large physical presence, Lisa has left us with a vast empty space to fill in our hearts.” 

Larry Alford, chief librarian of the University of Toronto Libraries, described Sherlock as a “dedicated and respected librarian. She contributed enormously to supporting a positive student experience with the Victoria and University of Toronto communities and to using the library to help build communities. She also deeply valued and was dedicated to preserving a building on the world-renowned collections houses in the Victoria College libraries.” 

Sherlock was also a published scholar with a special interest in William Blake, the English painter, poet and printmaker. Last year she had an article published in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.  

Louise Yearwood, the current executive director of Alumni Affairs & Advancement, said she and Sherlock shared an interest in both Blake and Jane Austen. 

“Lisa was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about her work for the Victoria Libraries and the university was blessed to have in Lisa a leader so dedicated and committed to this important area of academic life,” Yearwood said.  

McEwen noted that Sherlock mischievously told her the article was a critique and that she was fighting with another scholar. “She was so proud of that,” McEwen said, urging people to read the article. 

Professor Gooch, the former Vic U president, said that words are not enough today to express the grief people feel over Sherlock’s death. But, he said, we can grasp firmly the things that she loved, so that “her love will not end but will grow and multiply.  

Sherlock loved books. “Increase that love in the books you take up to read, the books you buy for gifts, the books you cherish for their very materiality,” Gooch said. “Hug your books.” 

She loved bringing the past into the present, preserving and interpreting artifacts and archives. “Don’t be seduced then by the blinkering distractions of the present. Honour the past, which has brought us to today.” 

She loved the literary imagination, so “reject a world that cannot see beyond the graphs and algorithms of self-interest.” 

Above all, she loved others, family, friends and colleagues. 

“We can no longer hug her, but we can reflect her love by hugging each other,” Gooch said. “Today is the day for hugs.” 

Read Next

Posted Wednesday, July 10

Meet Victoria College’s Class of 2024

Posted Friday, July 05

Vic U’s Centre for Creativity Co-hosts Panel on Helping Young Artists