Dear King’s Community,
We write with great sadness to share the news that Jen Powley, BJ’01, MFA’15, has died. An alumna of the Bachelor of Journalism program and the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Nonfiction at King’s, as well as Dalhousie’s MA in Urban Planning, Jen was an accomplished writer and advocate. Having developed multiple sclerosis at 15 and lost the use of her arms and legs by the age of 35, she used her intelligence, personality and strength of character to advance conversations around accessibility. Jen not only advocated for the removal of barriers, but she also found ways to create a much richer engagement between the wider society of which we are all part, and those within it who live with disabilities.
As Vice-President Sarah Clift observed, “She was completely formidable … a gem of a human being, and anyone who knew her was better for it.”
Jen moved to Halifax from Alberta in 2001 to pursue the BJ degree at King’s. The life she built in Nova Scotia included roles at Independent Living Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities and the Ecology Action Centre. In 2019 she received the James McGregor Stewart Award for her leadership and advocacy within the disabled community.
In 2017, she published her memoir, Just Jen: Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis (Roseway, 2017), a book she began writing as a student in the MFA – Creative Nonfiction program. Just Jen won the 2018 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award – Nonfiction. This year, she published Making a Home: Assisted Living in the Community for Young Disabled People (Fernwood, 2023) documenting her work developing a system for getting young disabled people out of nursing homes and into shared living communities.
As we offer our condolences to Jen’s family and friends, we are honoured to share the reminiscences and statements from a few members of Jen’s community at King’s and Dalhousie:
Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Jen’s Mentor in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program:
“Jen was a force. An activist and writer with a sharp wit and laser focus, she wrote two books letter by letter, word by word with a fierce determination I’ve rarely seen in anyone, let alone a writer. Working with Jen was one of the greatest gifts of my teaching career. The world has lost an articulate and generous activist, a woman whose remarkable strength kept everyone in awe.”
Howard Epstein, former faculty, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University; former Member of the Nova Scotia Legislature (Halifax Chebucto):
“When I first met [Jen] she was active with LEO [the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities] an advocacy organization for people with disabilities. At that time I was a member of the [NS] legislature and she came as part of a delegation on a couple of occasions to talk with officials about issues facing her community. I subsequently met her because she was a student of mine, she was doing a Master of Planning and I was teaching part time then at the law school. The course I taught was Planning Law and all the planning students had to take this course—I had planning students and law students and Jen got the highest grade of all the students—planning and law. She was so clever.
“She was also really funny—she published her first book, Just Jen, in the spring of 2017 and at the time same time I published a law textbook on land use law. So Jen and I, by that time, had become friends and we agreed that we would swap books. So I went to her apartment and we made the swap and I said “Well maybe we can spend the weekend reading each other’s books,” and she said “If we do that you’re going to have a much better weekend than I am!”
Michelle Mahoney, Accessibility Officer:
“Even though she could no longer use her voice due to MS, boy could she make her voice heard!
“Jen was a force! She didn’t let her disability define her. She moved to Halifax to make a life for herself. It was her unwavering dedication to the disability community that truly set her apart. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness and improve the lives of those living with disabilities. She was a very determined advocate for the belief that everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, should have the opportunity to live independently in homes tailored to their own lives and desires. Her advocacy was a lifeline for so many, offering hope and the promise of a more inclusive and accommodating world.
“She touched the lives of so many people. I just worked with her on an accessibility audit of a building—a situation where we both were respected for our lived experiences. She used her personal experiences to advocate for positive change…
“Rest easy friend. Fly with the angels.”
The flags in the Quad have been lowered to half-mast to honour Jen’s memory.
President, Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Law