ESA Office Communiqué – Gisèle Tchinda-Falcucci
Ricca Edmondson, National University of Ireland, Galway
Working with the ESA: A Paris Experience
We’d like to say farewell and bon voyage to Gisèle Tchinda-Falcucci, who worked at the heart of the ESA in Paris from the summer of 2006 until November 2017. Initially she was confined in a shared office where the attached meeting-rooms, as I well remember, had no windows. But the increasing size and reach of the ESA, and the efforts of Carmen Leccardi (IT) as President, saw the ESA office move to happier and airier premises; now, thanks to Frank Welz (AT), they are located on the boulevard Raspail.
As Frank notes, during the period over which Gisèle worked as the ESA’s administrative heart, its membership quadrupled. When she started in 2006 there were 800 members, and Gisèle, fresh from her translation course, worked for two and a half hours a week. The tiny office would be piled high with bulging envelopes, voting papers or copies of the newsletter, which were all addressed by hand and sent out by post. When Claire Wallace (UK) became President, Gisèle’s working hours were increased to half-time employment, as she worked on the monthly newsletter and updating the website. There are now nearly 3.000 members, and many more attend the conferences, so Gisèle’s work became full-time from 2012 onwards. Now she has left us to pursue her creative and artistic interests, and we wish her very well.
Claire Wallace has vivid memories of working with Gisèle during her Presidency of the organisation from 2007 to 2009. She says, ‘One of the pleasures of working at the ESA was the support I enjoyed from the quiet, efficient and always good-natured assistance of Gisèle. She was a calm, tranquil pool amidst the turbulent waters that the ESA has sailed through.’ As many people point out, the changing personnel of the ESA demanded by its constitution mean that it has a problem with institutional memory; for a long time, Gisèle was this memory, someone who knew what to do and how to do it, who could anticipate snags and soothe ruffled feelings. Claire emphasises that Gisèle will be greatly missed: she is ‘one of the people that has been [the ESA’s] continuity through the many changing office holders’.
Gisèle Tchinda-Falcucci and Carmen Leccardi (then ESA President) 2015
Pekka Sulkunen’s (FIN) memory of his early days as President is also that there were then ‘no documentation systems or clearly defined management processes’ at the ESA, only ‘a mixed bag of rules’ to apply. He says with deep appreciation of Gisèle that ‘her memory was the hard drive, and her wit and understanding the processor of the Association.’ Carmen Leccardi succeeded Pekka between 2013 and 2015; without Gisèle as Executive Assistant, Carmen’s experience, she says, ‘would have been completely different.’
“In fact Gisèle was not only a careful and competent daily presence with regard to the organisational and administrative activities of the organisation, she was certainly something more. Thanks to her long experience at the ESA, combined with her personal skills, she was able to perfectly enter the spirit of our association, always working in harmony with its aims and its academic horizons. Thus she not only solved the problems inevitable in the management of a large scientific organisation like the ESA, above all she was able to prevent them.”
Carmen adds that these skills, together with Gisèle’s ‘great humanity’ were an ‘incomparable support’ that guaranteed added value to the whole organisation.
Gisèle’s work was multilingual – she writes and speaks both French and English – but, as Frank Welz points out, she was also able to ‘cope masterfully’ with two special challenges. First, during her period of office she was the ESA’s only employee; secondly, she rarely met those she was working with in person. These included the many ESA members who emailed to consult about their problems (where there were fewer problems, there were fewer messages!), and the Executive Committee, whose members she met at most twice a year. She, did, however, collaborate with the President ‘on nearly everything’. Frank writes,
“I have been most impressed by her skills to attune to quite varying circumstances of her work and varying ESA Presidents. In addition to her strong analytical skills, I most appreciated that I could always rely on her, that I could always reach her, and that she shared the commitment to solve problems by being able and willing to take over ESA’s view.”
As a long-time former Network chair and an Executive member for four years, I can testify to all this. My memories are of Gisèle appearing at far-flung airports at unconscionable hours in the morning, dragging an unbelievably heavy suitcase full of documents for the Executive; she had had much experience of non-functioning computer systems and, for longer than one might imagine, paperwork continued to require actual paper. But her practicality was all-round: she would always have prompted the appearance of sandwiches for lunch and knew where to recommend in the evening for supper. She knew the sorts of expectation for public events that seemed natural within particular cultures, but were not anticipated by those from elsewhere; she was always gentle, always kind, and she was tolerant of our failings when we omitted to deal correctly with the intricate forms required by different countries for now-forgotten purposes that were inevitable at the time.
Gisèle herself recalls the hugely busy times before the Conferences, working overtime but often invisibly, and needing to remember the problems of each of hundreds of members… Many of these would email her in a panic when the software seemed not to be working, too anxious to wait ten minutes to resolve the problem; they would forget to tell her when the issue had been resolved and she would work on to deal with their now non-existent queries. It was a particularly difficult year before the Prague Conference, moving into the new office in April on her own, just at the time of the early-bird registration and the avalanche of emails that accompanied it. In the interim, as a result of Frank Welz’s innovations, many of these systems too have been automated, but of course new challenges continue to arise.
Gisèle: The Face behind ESA 2006-2017
Gisèle recalls that she has much enjoyed her own point of view observing successive Executives, some sixteen members elected by the Membership from all over Europe, often people who had never met before. ‘It was fascinating to look from the outside, so to speak, to see how they succeeded in collaborating: sometimes there was a wonderful atmosphere, sometimes there were tensions.’ Presidents too had very different styles. ‘But I remember best the meals together with the Executive, often in lovely European cities, the absorbing discussions we had.’ Eating together was part of tuning in to joint cooperation, learning how to get on. Gisèle says that, whatever the ups and downs, she could count on the Executive members being well-intentioned, wishing her well. This cannot, she remarks drily, be taken for granted in all jobs, and she looks back at her time with the ESA with gratitude.
We now have a great new team at the ESA, with Dr Dagmar Danko as Executive Coordinator and General Secretary, Andreia Batista Dias as Executive Administrator and with Sue Scott (UK) as President. We look forward to seeing them building on the organisation’s work and taking it to new heights. For her part, Gisèle has discontinued a number of the handwork activities that used to keep her sane, and is now a certified teacher of Zentangle! This, she says, is an ‘easy and relaxing method’ of drawing and painting, using patterns that are deconstructed and need to be reconstructed… Perhaps her sociological friends have had some influence on her after all.