The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 23, Number 4
1999


Obituary: Helen Diana Burgess

by Judy Logan

Helen Diana Burgess, known to her family as Diana and to her colleagues as Helen, passed away in August. In the early 1990s, at the height of her career as a conservation scientist, Helen became seriously ill, which led her to take early retirement from her position as senior conservation scientist at the Canadian Conservation Institute. At the time of her retirement, the conservation community lost a valued colleague, and it is with profound sadness that we must now accept this loss as final.

Helen was born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta, where she attended St. Basil's and Catholic Central Schools. She earned an Honors B.Sc. from the University of Lethbridge, and a M.Sc. in protein chemistry from the University of British Columbia. In 1976, Helen was accepted as a student in the Research stream of the Master of Art Conservation program at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Her interest quickly became focussed on the chemistry and degradation of cellulose. She earned a M.A.C. in Science in 1978 and was hired by the Conservation Processes Research Division of CCI the same year.

Helen presented the results of her M.A.C. research at the annual IIC-Canadian Group conference in 1979: "The effect of bleaching on cellulose; the damage caused, and what this means in conservation." That presentation marked the beginning of Helen's public career as a conservation scientist whose strengths lay in remarkable clarity of thought, presentation, and analysis. Major research projects which she coordinated include investigation of archival tapes, chemical stabilization of paper with borohydrides, use of enzymes in conservation, mass deacidification, and development of recommendations for alkaline washing. At the time of her retirement, Helen had just begun work on a project to investigate the characteristics of permanent paper.

Helen's contribution to the field of conservation, especially that of paper conservation, is immeasurable. Not only was she a rigorous scientist, she served on numerous committees and professional associations. She had a fine aesthetic sense, which served her in both her profession and her hobbies. Helen loved paper and textiles, flowers, beautiful ceramics and glass, and cats. She was often teased by her friends for picking flowers wherever she could find them, including in one instance, the Faculty Club garden at Queen's. Helen enjoyed painting flowers, and donated several of her water colors to the Lupus Society.

Helen has left an outstanding legacy of achievement to our profession. She will be missed, and remembered by her friends and colleagues with deep affection and admiration for her kindness, intelligence, talent, and steadfast dedication to the field of conservation.

Reprinted with the author's permission from AIC News, Nov. 1999, p. 15.

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