Leigh Hurst | Planting a tree

When Leigh Hurst started working at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) in 1998, she was only four days removed from finishing her last exam at the University of Calgary.

Author

Natasha Chalmers, Cumming School of Medicine

When Leigh Hurst started working at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) in 1998, she was only four days removed from finishing her last exam at the University of Calgary. She joined the CSM as a member of the Communications and Fund Development team, and is now an alumni specialist in the Alumni Engagement Office, working alongside alumni director Dr. Elisabeth (Betsy) Woolner (MD ’88). 

“Having been here for almost 20 years, people often come to me with questions about the school’s history, and our former and current students, faculty and staff,” says Leigh with a smile. “I did leave the university on a few occasions to pursue other job opportunities, but I always found myself being pulled back. The work here is meaningful in a way that’s difficult to find elsewhere.” 

Leigh says that the faculty has changed significantly since she started, including the alumni office. Established in 2006 by Dr. Janice Heard (MD ’84), the office originally focused on MD graduates. Since that time, the office has grown to capture information on graduates from all Cumming School programs including Undergraduate Medical Education, Graduate Science Education and Bachelor of Health Sciences. 

“My personal motto is a great way to explain how I feel about the changes that our office has made — ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now,’” says Leigh. “There’s something reassuring in the fact that we are rarely too late to make a change or a difference.” 

Growing up, the Lundbreck, Alberta, native graduated high school with many of the same twelve people she had started kindergarten with and dreamed of one day becoming a physician. 

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “It was when my parents asked if I could envision myself doing a prostate exam that I quickly changed my mind and decided to take a bachelor of arts with a major in communications instead.” 

Now focusing on communications as a profession, Leigh counts several influential people in her life and throughout her career for helping guide her in this direction. “Karen Thomas, the past director of communications for the faculty, had an eye for detail that was unparalleled, Janice Heard’s drive, tenacity vision for alumni set me on the path I’m on now, and Betsy Woolner's professionalism and ability to balance work and family life make her a remarkable role model,” she says. 

On the topic of family life, Leigh indicates that her hobbies are currently on the back burner while her two children pursue theirs. Although she spends time gardening, cooking and entertaining with her husband, most of their free time is spent watching basketball or volleyball in small gyms around the city. Leigh counts her children as her greatest achievement. 

“My daughter's resilience, compassion and work ethic — she gets that from her dad — leave me in awe,” boasts Leigh. “While my son's quick wit and surprising insights — he gets that from me — make for many proud moments.” 

Leigh herself has a lot to be proud of. She has made an immense difference in the lives of many people who’ve passed through the CSM. Her warmth, infectious energy and impact will surely be felt throughout the next 50 years. 

Tidbits from Leigh:

Hidden talents: “I’ve finally mastered the art of making French macarons. It took three years, but I think they’re on par with many of the boutique samplings in the city.” 

Fun fact: “I met my husband here over a body bequeathal news release. I still have the initial emails where I referred to him as Dr. Hallgrimsson.” 

Favourites:

  • Colour: “Blue! I love it so much that my husband included sapphires in my wedding ring.”
  • Main course: “My dad would want me to support the beef industry and say ‘prime rib,’ but I really like pork belly!”
  • Dessert: Benedikt’s triple layer peanut butter and chocolate cake.
  • Movie: “Does anyone remember Willow? I went to it every night it was in the Pincher Creek theatre. I’ve watched it recently and it seems terrible but I absolutely loved it in high school.”
  • Book: “Two of my more recent favourites are Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Pearl that Broke its Shell. I had to read the Glass Castle before I could go to the movie with some co-workers. Besides the good company, I’m not sure it was worth it!” 

Enjoys most about working at the CSM: “I love the fact that we’re a ‘community’ of people working towards a similar purpose. I think it’s because I grew up in such a small town that I appreciate getting to know the people we’re surrounded by daily.” 

Where she sees the Cumming School in 50 years: “After working here for almost 20 years, I’ve realized that this place is difficult to predict. Ideally, the school will continue to cultivate pride in our alumni and the community with our ability to educate the future generations, and generate knowledge that they will see as impactful to their lives.”