On her own terms

When Wendy C. Fox (BASc (BA) ’71) was 19, she had plans to backpack around Europe with a group of friends. She’d just finished her first year at the University of Lethbridge, and had managed to save enough money for the trip. One by one though, Fox’s travel companions began bowing out, leaving Fox high and dry, and deeply disappointed that she wouldn’t see Europe that summer after all. Disappointed that is, until Fox decided to make the trip on her own.

Alumna Wendy Fox influenced the career paths of tens of thousands of Canadians over the course of 20 years.

“It was my mother who made me realize that I should go anyway,” Fox recalls. “I vividly remember coming home and telling my parents that the trip was off because none of my friends were going, and my mother said something that changed me forever.

"C.C. said, 'If you wait for other people all the time, you’re probably not going to do a lot of the things you want to do.'”

That message seems to have set the trajectory of Fox’s life from that day forward, creating the foundation for a professional and personal existence that Fox more or less custom designed to suit her interests and abilities.

She would return to finish her undergraduate degree at the U of L and, after completing the course requirements and teaching responsibilities for a master’s degree from the University of Calgary (she majored in anthropology), took off to foreign lands in search of adventure and inspiration for her thesis. She travelled through the Middle East and India, eventually wound up in Laos, and taught ESL there for a year. Fox later settled into a small Lao village, began studying Buddhism, and eventually wrote her thesis on the village’s religious specialists.

When she returned to Canada, Fox (quite literally by accident) accepted a position as an instructor at Lethbridge College. A faculty member had been injured and wouldn’t be able to teach for several months. Would Fox come in and cover for him? Could she start that afternoon?

“I remember rushing around the house getting ready, flying out the door and just hitting the ground running,” says Fox with a laugh. “I loved that job, largely because it was brand new territory for me. I just dove in.”

Fox’s ability to dive in and create something out of nothing has served her well. She moved from the college to the newly established Alberta Career Centre in Lethbridge in 1977, and played an instrumental role in designing its various programs and offerings over a 10-year period.

She was part of the team that set up the Youth Employment Services Center in Edmonton, serving six years with the organization and receiving the Alberta Career Development Award of Excellence while there. Fox went on to become an information and marketing specialist for Alberta Career Development. She created a full line of materials for the ministry, and helped to develop Alberta Learning Information Service – a comprehensive web site for people exploring careers, seeking educational options and looking for labour market information. She was active with the Hire A Student Committee, Lethbridge Lifelong Learning, Access 45 and a number of other employment- and community-organizations. She also served on various provincial and federal committees in the interest of professional development as well. All told, Fox influenced the career paths of tens of thousands of Canadians over the course of 20 years.

All but one of Fox’s professional roles were brand new when she took the job – there was no roadmap for her to follow; no precedents yet set. Fox was the architect of each position, and ultimately she created her own consulting firm with everything she’d learned. Fox and her husband Jim Geekie, a fellow civil servant, established CareerWorks Inc. Consulting in 1997. Geekie retired from the consulting and training side of the business eight years later to focus on the administrative side of things, and Fox continued to conduct workshops and work with clients on her own until 2012.

“I’ve always liked starting new things – venturing out on my own, figuring out how to make things work,” says Fox, who was inducted to the U of L Alumni Honour Society in 2014. “Jim and I collaborated with a lot of talented professionals over the years, and it was always rewarding to carve our own path alongside people who shared our vision.”

Fox continues to make travel a big part of her life. She and her husband spend several months a year in Thailand, and they recently came back from a first time trip to Sri Lanka. Although she’s technically retired now, Fox isn’t sure she’s done with work forever.

“Lots of people drift in and out of work after retirement in various capacities,” she says. “There are still things I’m interested in and would like to pursue. Work is an adventure if you look at it that way. It’s another opportunity to learn.”

When asked how an anthropology major wound up as a career development specialist, Fox replies with joyful aplomb.

“I think my willingness to do things I’ve never done has always led me in the right direction,” she says. “Never turn down an opportunity, that’s my advice. You never know where it might lead or if you’ll get another chance if it passes you by.”