Elaine Borthwick: 40 Years of Memories

If you’re a current JD student or alumnus reading this, chances are that Elaine Lenki Borthwick reviewed your law school application. For the last 30 and some years (over 40 years total at UBC), Elaine has served as the law school’s Director, JD Admissions. From a former Prime Minister and numerous justices and judges, Elaine has admitted several generations of British Columbia's legal profession to law school. Her personalized approach to recruitment, and leadership in improving processes, has ensured we continually attract the highest caliber of students to the Allard School of Law.

Elaine retired in June 2020, passing on the baton to a new Director. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Elaine about her time at UBC and some of her most memorable moments.

You’ve been with the law school for over 40 years. In that time you’ve seen many changes at the school. What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

Oh my goodness where do I start? When I first started working at UBC Law, (what it was called back then, I was only five years old (ok that's what I tell people!!). It's hard to believe I grew up at the Law School (ok some would disagree about the growing up part!). The classes were held in army huts which were located around Mary Bollert Hall. Mary Bollert Hall was the main administration building which also housed many professors offices as well as the Dean. There were no Associate Deans in those days. I’ve been here since Dean McClean was Dean (he was the second Dean at the law school). Dean Curtis stepped down as the first Dean but was still active in the law school. That means I have been here, met and served under all of the Deans at the law school (boy am I old!). I worked in the "other" building which only had professors and assistants (called secretaries back then). We moved up the hill to the "new" building (referred to as the bunker which was built over top of the original law library).

Students smoked cigarettes in class, long hair was in (now that COVID-19 is here long hair is in again!).The entering class was 240! St. Andrews residence was all green grass and we used to play baseball or soccer there. Faculty and staff versus the students. I believe Professor Edinger hit a ball so hard and so far it went through the window of St. Andrews! You could fit an entire first year class (of 240) into one lecture hall. The heating and cooling system was always tricky (in some ways that’s the same today). You actually guzzled real beer before riding tricycles during the annual tricycle race. People stood on the roof of the Curtis Law Building (totally unsafe!) and hurled water balloons at everyone on the tricycles or anyone who might be in their way. Oh my goodness those were the days! I don't think I'd be permitted to "really" tell you what went on back then!

Is there one particularly memorable moment or highlight from your career at UBC that you can share with us?

Hmm, hard to answer that one. There are so many memories. Being appointed as a voting member to the Board of Trustees of the Law School Admissions Council and being the first Canadian who was not a professor or Dean and who was an Admissions Professional, was definitely a highlight but I'm not sure I can really say there is only one highlight! Having Beverley McLachlin as Chair of Admissions one year was memorable! We attended our first Annual Meeting of the Law School Admissions Council together. Yes, I got to just hang out with the future Chief Justice of Canada! And of course there was acting in the Law Revue under the direction of our future first and only female Prime Minister Kim Campbell. In the cast were Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Madam Justice Lynn Smith and Dean Blom, to name but a few! And what a note to leave on by being nominated by Dean Dauvergne, Professors Janine Benedet, Joe Weiler and Karin Mickelson for the “President’s Service Award for Excellence” and actually being selected! Now that took my breath away!

Of all the things you’ve achieved during your time in Admissions, what are you most proud of?

I'm very proud of the time that I took to get to know applicants, let them know that they have a voice and that they are not simply a number or merely words on a piece of paper. A number of times I’ve heard applicants say (after personally reaching out to them) “you are actually calling me?” or “wow you really do read the files and my personal statement!”. It has made a difference to many applicants and believe it or not I still hear from students from long ago who call or email and say that I made a difference in their lives! What could be more rewarding than hearing that!

What are you going to miss the most

That is pretty easy to answer. I will miss the people! The staff (especially my Admissions Team Gareth and Tara), the faculty and of course the students! The longest run being with Nancy Wiggs. I can't name everyone or this will go on for pages!

So, what’s next? How do you plan to spend your retirement? What are you looking forward to the most?

The world is my oyster! Luckily, I like oysters! No more alarm clocks, unless it is set to do something of my choosing! I was going to take a course on silver jewelry making, which I will do once the world is back to its new normal. My husband is terrified at the thought of me smiling with an acetylene torch in my hands! I dragon boat, but that is on hold with the pandemic but I hope to go out kayaking whenever I have the desire to do so and swim in the ocean. Relaxing while reading and maybe enjoying a beverage comes up pretty high on the list as well. Of course continue to go for walks in the forest and breathe in the fresh air and hug a tree since we aren’t permitted to hug each other yet! I look forward to when we can hug again... take care of yourselves and each other!

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