Laurie Poulson taught the first linguistics class I ever took at the University of Washington. I remember her introduction, in which she told all her students to just call her Laurie, unless for some reason they absolutely could not, in which case she would reluctantly allow “Mrs. Poulson”. Being a college freshman and having grown up in a culture where all people of higher social status must be addressed by a title, I absolutely could not, and happily called her Mrs. Poulson. She was wonderfully cheerful, always took the time to explain things carefully and had a knack for distilling difficult concepts and making them easy to understand. It was a great class.
After the quarter ended, I would occasionally run into her on campus say, “Hi, Mrs. Poulson!” She would always turn around and sigh, with a cheerfully exasperated expression, saying that she knew it was me, because I was the only person that ever called her Mrs. Poulson and to please just call her Laurie. It was only after I started graduate school that I finally relented and called her Laurie instead.
I once saw her at one of the cafeterias on campus reading a paper and stopped by to say hi and ask her what she was working on. She was reading a paper on aspect, which was, at the time, a little over my head. But even so, she stopped reading for a couple minutes to explain what aspect was, and what she was reading.
In graduate school, I gave a talk on a research project I was working on. I was ill-prepared, stuttered throughout the whole talk, and was not able to field questions very well. It was a pretty spectacular train-wreck. After the talk, she pulled me aside and said, “Joshua, let me tell you a story.” She started telling me about a time she once gave a practice talk and similarly didn’t do as well as she had hoped. But then, she worked on her talk some more and by the time the conference rolled around, she was able to speak with confidence. It was just what I needed to hear.
Laurie passed away just a couple days ago.
Laurie, thank you for being a wonderful teacher, a colleague, and a friend. I’ll always remember your kindness and encouragement, and appreciate how you were always were genuinely interested in me and in how I was doing. I’ll miss you.