Remembering Jennifer Hayes
by Juan Lachapelle | published Feb. 20th, 2014
For 15 years Jennifer Hayes worked as a staff interpreter at RIT for the science/engineering team, spending her last few years as part of the liberal arts core team. She was known as a top interpreter and signed for important RIT figures, as well as for theater plays in the Panara Theatre and Ingle Auditorium. She was married with three children. Hayes was diagnosed with stage four cancer six years ago. She died on January 30, 2014 at the age of 43.
Resilient and strong, Hayes never saw her illness as a weakness. She attended work as often as possible. Christopher Felo, manager of the liberal arts core team, was the one Hayes reported to during her time at RIT. “When I reported her last hospital stay to RIT [Human Resources], they didn’t even know she was sick because she never missed time from work,” said Felo.
Hayes scheduled her chemo therapies around work and her major surgeries during her time off. Even as her condition worsened, she continued to sign in classes and assist in the office. During her last week in a hospital bed, she was so convinced that she would recover that she continued to schedule assignments for the coming week.
Outside of colleagues, other individuals recognized her strength and dedication. Katharine Gillies, senior interpreter for the liberal arts core team, worked with Hayes on a variety of assignments. One of her most memorable moments happened while interpreting for a class. Hayes often came to class with a skull cap due to her hair falling out and Gillies did the same to show support. A professor of one of the classes asked Hayes privately about her condition and wanted to share it with the rest of the class.
“This professor, when class started, made a gorgeous little speech…” said Gillies. “She said we should all be grateful for the fact that she is getting up every single day to serve us, even when she’s not feeling well.” She later asked Hayes for a skull cap and wore it to some of the classes she interpreted.
After being diagnosed, Hayes and her husband didn’t want to know how much time she had left or how many protocols she needed; she wanted to live every single day. She had beaten the odds and expectations of doctors over and over. Colleen Freeman, coordinator of interpreting services for the college of liberal arts, knew Hayes outside of work and was best friends with her for 20 years. Freeman shared fond memories of vacations with their kids.
Hayes aimed to live every day to fullest for not only herself but for her family. She has left behind a legacy that anyone can look up to. She left saying more in her silence than in words. After she passed Freeman messaged the entire liberal arts core team reading, “Did you hear Jennifer whisper goodbye? Our friend is at peace.”
Jennifer Hayes and her husband, Will. Photogrph courtesy of Colleen Freeman