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“She still sends me a card when I return from a congress”

“She still sends me a card when I return from a congress”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Gaby Odekerken inspired by Fien Hutschemaekers-Palmen

Can someone who had to start working after primary school influence an academic career? Certainly, says Gaby Odekerken, scientific director of the Service Science Factory and professor at the department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management. “My grandmother still inspires me every day.”

It used to be a tradition in the Hutschemaekers family, Gaby Odekerken's mother’s family: visiting grandfather and grandmother on Sunday for coffee and cake. If the young Gaby still had work to do for school, she could do so in a small room upstairs. After a while, grandmother would always come and see how things were and bring something nice. “She still sends me a card with loads of text when I return from a congress. That is her way of stimulating me. She is 94 now, but still has all her faculties. She doesn’t miss a trick.”

It is her life and her attitude towards life that inspire Odekerken. “Grandmother herself only completed primary school. She had to take up work in a large family household as a twelve-year-old. She never complained about that, but by telling me about that time she was making it clear in no unspoken terms what chances and possibilities I myself had. If I was having trouble with my studies, her words would motivate me.”

Grandmother’s lessons are also useful in daily life. “Her glass is always half full. When I was seven, my mother was in hospital. My father had to work, so grandmother did the looking after. Until she fell down our stairs and broke both her legs. She burst out laughing at the bottom of the stairs. As if to say: look at me lying here now, well let’s make sure we have a great time in the hospital. Her own pain, how everything would now have to be arranged, she didn’t think about that.”

Putting things into perspective is something that Odekerken has had to learn in the course of time. “When I started work as a lecturer at the university, every job seemed to be a huge mountain that I had to conquer. Now I know that there is more to life. I do what I do as well as possible and that is enough. Enjoying life and being thankful for the small things seems far from the academic world, but it is so important here too. Sometimes the days seem to be completely filled with budgets and estimates. That is when it is good to stop and contemplate on the fact that you have wonderful colleagues, are given opportunities, and are allowed to try out new things.”

This is something that Odekerken tries to teach her students. “Often students regard the luxury in which they live and the opportunities that they are given as self-evident. But life is not a fortune cookie factory. And that is not a bad thing; the difficulties and sorrowful encounters are what make you who you are. Grandmother always says that she wouldn’t want to have missed the hard work, it made her who she is.”

Another of her grandmother’s characteristics that Odekerken hopes to have taken on, is her interest in others. “Very sincere. Wherever she is, within five minutes people are gathered around her. This is because of her open attitude and the questions she asks. I think it is important that you know the people with whom you work every day well, that you show interest in their lives. Whether I manage to do so, is up to others to judge.”

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