Monique Westra (née Kaufman) (MA 1975) and Haijo Westra (MA 1974, PhD 1979) of Calgary first spotted each other in an elevator – and it was love at first lift.
Monique: We met in an elevator in 1974 in Robarts Library. I was an art history student and had been up all night preparing for an exam; I was drunk with fatigue. But then I saw this gorgeous man holding a patterned wallet and I asked if it was from Mexico. That got us talking. He was Dutch, and I thought he was brilliant, gentle and different.
Two years after we married in 1975, Haijo got a job at the University of Calgary. Ten years later he was on sabbatical, and we spent an academic year in Provence, France. It was a great adventure. We travelled, took beautiful walks in the countryside and went to the beaches where it seemed like I was the only female who was not topless. We made a lot of friends and became integrated into the daily life of a small town. It was a unique opportunity for our two young sons, Adam and Evan, and they became fluent in French. Both boys are now graduate students in philosophy.
We have a great respect for each other, and we’re very good friends. We have a high level of tolerance through the lows, because things aren’t always easy sailing. I had breast cancer in 1998, and my doctor said that he wished he could clone Haijo because every woman should be so lucky to have such a supportive husband. That was a very profound moment.
Haijo: When I first started seeing Monique, her intensity and keenness came out right away. At the time, she was doing tours for the AGO and had internalized all of this art-history material, and could give great off-the-cuff lectures. She really got into her thesis topic, The Burghers of Calais by Rodin, to the point that sometimes it felt like the bearded old French sculptor was sleeping between us. In Calgary, Monique has worked as a curator at the Glenbow Museum and she still writes, organizes art exhibitions on a freelance basis and paints. The way she manages to get into the works of art, and how she understands and interprets them, is really remarkable.
I love sailing, and I keep a sailboat in Victoria. Monique’s not as keen, but I take her under optimal conditions so she can read a book on board. We really like to travel together. We recently went to Berlin for three weeks to visit our oldest son, and our main activity was touring and visiting museums.
I recently retired from teaching Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary. Just this morning, I was working on a new project: cleaning behind the fridge. I’m continuing with my academic work but it’s much better than the old routine of always rushing around. Now we have more time for each other and for long walks with our new dog, Murphy.