Beloved AU alum honoured posthumously with inaugural Lifelong Learner Award
Louise Daley completed her first AU degree at 75 years old and completed her second at 93
Athabasca University can offer higher education to nearly anyone, anywhere, at any point in their lives.
There is no better example of a lifelong learner at AU than Louise Daley (Bachelor of Arts ’99, Bachelor of General Studies ’17). She has been posthumously awarded the inaugural Lifelong Learner Award, which recognizes an AU student who seeks to expand their knowledge and skills through continuous learning.
Tireless in her commitment to lifelong learning, she was partway through a third degree—a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies—when she had to stop for health reasons. She died in 2021 at 97 years old.
An inspiration to her family
Daley’s legacy lives on in the example she set for so many others, including her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
One of Daley’s daughters returned to university after a long absence. Her two children, in turn, pursued university right after high school. And Daley’s great-grandchildren—including Sadie Graham, her brothers, and cousins—are likewise in the same situation.
“It’s just so cool to see how it’s been passed down through the generations,” Graham said. “To see her being recognized this way is very important and very cool for us to see, because we all saw how dedicated she was at getting her degrees and continuing her education.”
“I like to see other people laugh. When you live miserably, it brings you down a bit. But if you can make them laugh a bit, then you’re on top of the world as well.”– Louise Daley in a 2020 interview
Inspiring lifelong learning in others
Daley’s inspirational impact has spread far beyond her own family. Over the years, AU has highlighted her story several times, and other students have said they were inspired specifically by Daley’s example of earning a university degree later in life.
In an episode of AU’s Go the Distance podcast, Laverne Wells (Bachelor of Managment ’21) specifically spoke about how Daley’s example of earning two degrees later in life helped her to overcome her own reservations about starting a university education in her 50s.
“Here I am, 20 plus years younger than this woman, and I’m feeling insecure about my age going back to school,” she said. “If you have it in you to go to school, then by all means go back.”
As Daley demonstrated clearly, she had it in her to go back to school after a long time away from formal education—and that’s exactly what she did.
A lifelong learner from an early age
In an interview in 2020, when Daley was inducted into the Order of Athabasca University, she spoke about her experiences with lifelong learning—including love of learning that was ignited in her youth and kept burning despite so many life circumstances getting in the way.
She was interested in reading, writing, and learning for most of her life. Born with a damaged heart, she was unable to run and play in the same way as her siblings and friends. Reading was, in effect, a window on the world.
At 12 years old, living in little village in England, her teacher assigned the class to write a poem, so she wrote a poem about a swing her older brother had built her. Her teacher “went crazy” over it.
“Then I just got big-headed,” she said with a laugh.
But Daley’s educational opportunities, in the traditional sense, ended when she was 14 years old. It was 1938, and her father’s employer transferred him due to the impending war. She left school to help her mother with the work around the house. At age 17 she got a paying job, doing war-related work, which she did for two years before her damaged heart made that no longer possible.
She married, had four children, and took on various jobs to help her family, until her husband Thomas Daley passed away in 1976 when she was almost 52 years old. But all the while, she kept up with her writing and in particular, writing poems and stories that would make people laugh.
“I like to see other people laugh,” Daley said. “When you live miserably, it brings you down a bit. But if you can make them laugh a bit, then you’re on top of the world as well.”
A lifelong learner becomes AU’s oldest graduate
At her youngest daughter’s graduation from Sheffield University, just a few months after Thomas died, her daughter suggested that Daley should enrol in the Open University in England, saying, “You know how to present a good argument.”
So, Daley took up the challenge and completed several courses. After moving to Canada, she started taking classes at AU. Although she said she was taking courses for her own interest rather than to earn a degree, she earned enough credits to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1999 and a Bachelor of General Studies in 2017.
By completing that second degree, she became AU’s oldest graduate—and her dedication to lifelong learning continues to inspire the AU community.
She said she appreciated her time at AU, not just because of the support she felt from all the instructors and staff she dealt with, but also because the individualized study options diminished the anxiety she felt about being an older student doing undergraduate courses. She said she also appreciated knowing that the work she did was entirely her own, rather than being influenced by the interpretations of others in her classes.
“I think the work that she did and the fact that she's getting recognized for this award is so amazing because she really deserved it. She worked hard to continue learning throughout her whole life and it’s something that’s special not just for her, but our whole family as we value education so much.””– Sadie Graham, Louise Daley's great-granddaughter
A lifelong learning legacy
Daley left behind more than just a strong example for others to follow; she published two collections of poetry.
She shared one of her poems and some of her personal reflections on lifelong learning in a 2019 article on The Hub she called “Things people have said.” These stand as testament not just to her skills as a writer, but also to her sense of humour.
“I was interested in an e-mail that was sent to my doctor about me, and I asked if I could have a copy, and in it, it read ‘I suspect that she will not live long enough to experience more problems,’” she wrote. “I’ll let you know if that happens.”
For Graham, who started university in 2023, her great-grandmother’s experience and example continue to serve as an inspiration. She said seeing Daley’s passion for lifelong learning celebrated with this award from AU is “a good inspiration for me.”
She also feels like her great-grandmother would be personally honoured by the award, and to know about the impact her example has had on her own family, and beyond.
“I think the work that she did and the fact that she’s getting recognized for this award is so amazing because she really deserved it,” Graham said. “She worked hard to continue learning throughout her whole life and it’s something that’s special not just for her, but our whole family as we value education so much.”