‘Never say never’: spinal cord injury advocate

(Edmonton) Louise Miller isn’t shy about asking questions. She certainly wasn’t as a student at the University of Alberta, when her peers placed wagers on when she’d raise her hand and more than one beleaguered professor set limits on her inquisitions.

“In sociology class held Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I was told that I could only ask questions on Friday—so I had to save them up,” she recalled June 10 in an address to graduands from the Faculty of Nursing and the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.

“In a chemistry class held in those tiered rooms … the professor announced to all—to everybody, and he pointed—‘I am not answering any more of that woman's questions!’”

Though some professors did limit her queries, Miller typically got her way—and her answers—either through special tutorials or arrangements about when and where to raise questions.

“Socrates taught us that asking a great question is often more powerful than providing a sound solution,” she said.

It’s this dogged pursuit of knowledge that has guided Miller from her early days as a nurse to a teacher of interpersonal communication to more than a quarter century as co-founder and president of the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre (Northern Alberta) Society. The organization aims to support the quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries—people like Miller herself, a paraplegic who suffered a spinal cord injury after life-saving surgery.

Throughout her life and education, Miller has learned many lessons, including that learning never stops. It’s guided her work for numerous charities for the disabled, eventually leading to an appointment to the Order of Canada and a Canadian Medical Association Medal of Honour.

“There are always others who know more than you do. Recognize it and learn from them,” she said, also advising graduands to “check your perceptions” and understand your goals.

While musing about her own motivations, Miller said she believes in a mature society that keeps its members safe, healthy, well fed and housed so they have options to participate to the best of their abilities.

“I do believe that I should use my education and abilities to create opportunities for others. And perhaps this is what motivates me.”

On those days when others try to shut you out, Miller advised staying resolute: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.”

“And, never say never—don’t even think about it!”