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Cynthia Ross Friedman dies suddenly at age 47

Ross Friedman taught at Thompson Rivers University, helped lead the fight against the Ajax mine and was, briefly, a mayoral candidate in 2017
Cynthia Ross Friedman
Cynthia Ross Friedman — a former biology professor at Thompson Rivers University and opponent of the proposed Ajax mine — died suddenly from an aortic dissection the morning of Dec. 24 while visiting family in Penticton.

A well-known Kamloops academic and social activist has died.

Cynthia Ross Friedman — a former biology professor at Thompson Rivers University and opponent of the proposed Ajax mine — died suddenly from an aortic dissection the morning of Dec. 24 while visiting family in Penticton.

She was 47.

“She was a fearless advocate for workers, the environment [and] social justice. She was an activist in the best meaning of that word,” said husband Tom Friedman.

Born in Winnipeg, Ross Friedman studied at the University of Manitoba, where she obtained a PhD in biological sciences in 2002.

In 2004, she moved to Kamloops, where she began teaching at TRU. She left the university in 2017 and was teaching last fall at the University of Alberta and Concordia University of Edmonton.

Friedman, who is president of the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association, said he first met Cynthia when she started the group, Faculty for the Advancement of Research, when TRU became a full university in 2005.

“I met her briefly then and, within the next year or so, I realized she was this bright spark, so vital and full of life and I immediately felt an attraction to her,” Friedman said.

The two married in 2007.

Ross Friedman’s distinguished academic career included awards for teaching, research and service, along with many publications on dwarf mistletoe — including in the prestigious Nature Communications.

She took satisfaction from working alongside and co-publishing with students and was proud to inspire and mentor young minds, Friedman said.

In 2014, she was inducted into the inaugural cohort of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts in 2016 in recognition of her commitment to social and environmental justice. 

Ross Friedman was instrumental in organizing forums and rallying opposition to the proposed Ajax mine through her work with the Kamloops Area Preservation Association.

Dr. Jill Calder, a director of the anti-Ajax group Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment Society (KPHES), which partnered with Ross Friedman in advocating against the mine, said she was shocked to hear the news of her passing.

“She had a lot of heart and soul in all of the activities that she did,” Calder said.

“We felt that Cynthia was a colleague, a friend, a resource. She was the quiet, calm behind the scenes and she could also be in the limelight and say things publicly, which made the rest of us more comfortable to step into that as well.”

Ross Friedman also advocated for workers’ rights, and strongly believed scientists have a duty to effect change through public engagement.

“She wanted a better world,” Friedman said, noting her social activism made a strong impression on people.

Outside of academics and activism, Ross Friedman was an accomplished keyboardist and vocalist, performing both solo and with the Kamloops Latin band Caliente. She was also an avid football fan and a strong supporter of the SPCA.

Ross Friedman launched a brief mayoral campaign during the 2017 byelection before stepping aside for health reasons, which were unrelated to what caused her death, Friedman said.

“Her family is going to miss her vitality and her cheerfulness, her sense of humour — all of those wonderful qualities that we’ve lost,” Friedman said.

He said his wife’s death was sudden and unexpected, as she had not been diagnosed with an aortic dissection before her passing.

An aortic dissection is a condition in which there is a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart.

“There was no indication,” said Friedman, noting the condition can be caused by genetics or high blood pressure. “It’s something that’s not easy to detect ahead of time.”

Ross Friedman is survived by her husband Tom, stepsons Nathan and Benjamin, mother Rose Anne Ross, sister, Kelly Ross, brother-in-law Alex Lafreniere and extended family in B.C., Manitoba and Ontario.

A celebration of life ceremony will be held on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. at Kamloops United Church, 421 St Paul St. downtown.

“This will be a chance for people to express what we all feel about what we have to do from here on in. It’s about the future more than the past,” Friedman said.

In lieu of flowers, people are encouraged to donate to a charity of their choosing, Friedman said.