Professor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak

Age: 49

Adjunct Professor in Foreign Languages (French) (Dept of Foreign Languages and Literature)

VT Faculty Member Since: 8/01

Hometown: Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada (born in Montreal)

Educational Background: BA, Education (St. Mary's Univ of Nova Scotia)

Married with Two Daughters (one teen-age [12]; one grown)

Died along with 11 students in her Intermediate French class.


Audio/Video Remembrances

MSNBC Video Remembrance: VT Shootings: 2 Professors Remembered

Audio Remembrances From NPR (visit NPR's VT Remembrance Page to listen):

Richard Shryock, Chair of Virginia Tech’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Says Couture-Nowak Was ‘Very Passionate About Her Teaching, About Her Students, and About The French Language.’

Personal Remembrances From Family/Friends/Colleagues

Submit your personal remembrance for posting here (please include your name and relationship).

Memorial webpage at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, where Prof. Couture-Nowak previously taught.

Newspaper Remembrance Stories

Husband and Wife were Associated with Tech and Recently Bought Home in Blacksburg
(Roanoke Times Profile)

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak was so afraid of guns that she wouldn’t travel to some parts of the country, her husband, Jerzy Nowak, told USA Today.

On Monday, she was among the victims of the shooting spree in Norris Hall at Virginia Tech, where she was a French instructor.

“She was so happy … a wonderful mother and wife,” Nowak told the newspaper.

The couple have a teenage daughter and had recently bought a house in Blacksburg, he said.

They moved to Southwest Virginia from Nova Scotia in 2000, when Jerzy Nowak was named chairman of the Department of Horticulture at Tech.

Couture-Nowak was listed on the university Web site as teaching intermediate French this semester. She started her career at Tech teaching beginning French.

“I have a Bachelor of Education with a minor in French as a second language from St. Mary University in Nova Scotia, Canada,” Couture-Nowak wrote in a 2001 newsletter for Tech’s department of foreign languages and literatures.

“I am originally from the province of Quebec but have lived in my mother’s home province of Nova Scotia for many years. ... I have developed French second language programs for young learners in preschool settings.”

An accomplished swimmer who won several medals in the 2004 Commonwealth Games, Couture-Nowak added, “I enjoy gardening with my dear husband and exploring beautiful Virginia!”

— Cody Lowe (Roanoke Times, 4/18/07)

New York Times Profile:

A French instructor from Truro, Nova Scotia, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak moved 8 years ago to Virginia Tech, where her husband, Jerzy Nowak, teaches horticulture. She had worked passionately to spread the French language, and was described as vibrant, enthusiastic and dynamic by the vice president of administration, Bernie MacDonald, at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, where she taught French.

She was instrumental in the push to create Truro's first French school in 1997.

Couture-Nowak is survived by two daughters, one named Sylvie who is in her mid-teens, and a grown daughter named Francine, according to a friend Claire Russell.

French instructor known for esprit
USAToday Profile

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak loved life in two languages.

She also lived it with enthusiasm and a sparkle in her eyes in two countries — first in Canada, then in the USA at Virginia Tech, where she taught French.

Couture-Nowak moved to Virginia with her husband, horticulture professor Jerzy Nowak, in 2001 to take teaching posts at the university in Blacksburg. She left behind a cheering section at Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

"I've never met anyone who didn't love Jocelyne," said Lloyd Mapplebeck, an associate professor of horticulture there. "She was a high-energy person, very enthusiastic. When she got involved with something, she put a lot of energy into it."

Among those endeavors was the establishment of a private French immersion school in Truro, her former hometown. The school enabled children of Acadian descent to learn their native tongue.

Though she didn't teach horticulture like her husband, Couture-Nowak had a green thumb. She grew beautiful gardens at her home in Truro.

She leaves behind her husband and two daughters — one grown, one only 12 — whom she loved dearly. "You could just see her eyes sparkle when her kids were around," Mapplebeck said. "How do you tell your 12-year-old?"

Washington Post Profile:

Before Jocelyne Couture-Nowak moved from rural Canada to Virginia, she wanted to be sure of one thing: that her family would be safe.

She checked out schools for her two daughters. She looked for a good neighborhood.

They moved to Virginia Tech around 2001 when her husband was hired as head of the horticulture department.

Her friends say she had several passions in life but the biggest were her children, her gardening and her Francophone heritage.

Couture-Nowak was killed in Norris Hall, where she was teaching the French she loved so much. She is now mourned by her two daughters and her husband, a skilled gardener.

Born in Montreal and raised in Nova Scotia as the eldest of five children, she met her Polish husband Jerzy Nowak in the small town of Truro, 100 miles north of Halifax. She taught French part-time at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, and her husband ran the horticulture department.

As an Acadian and a lover of the French language, she worried that her two daughters would lose their mother tongue as they grew older. She was taking a linguistic course at Nova Scotia Teachers College and realized how the English-dominated environment might affect her daughters.

"We had passionate discussions into the wee hours about education," said her teacher at the time, Heather Parker, who later became a close friend. "We had a dream of having our own school for our children."

So Couture-Nowak, Parker and a third mother, Nicole Bagnell, banded together in 1996 and fought to establish the area's first Francophone school.

Looking to build support, they went to preschools with pamphlets, said Bagnell, "then we divided up the phonebook looking for any names that sounded French."

After the school was established, she taught there as a substitute teacher and helped bring a French pre-school program to town as well.

"It was always about the children with her," Parker said. Like the time Couture-Nowak helped Parker build a flower bed: She had Parker watch where the children ran and built the bed around those pathways.

"She was very concerned about what her kids would see on TV, that it wasn't too much violence," Bagnell said.

At home in Truro and later in Blacksburg, Couture-Nowak's love of gardening produced an overflow of plants and flowers. Years later, family and friends in Nova Scotia still remember the abundance of floral sights and scents in her yard.

They also recalled her vibrant sense of life. "She was always swimming and cross-country skiing," said her aunt Suzanne Couture in French. "She was full of life, and she was dead-set against any kind of violence."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made special mention of Couture-Nowak in a speech in Ottawa this week. The agricultural college where she once taught flew flags at half-mast. And friends -- both in Virginia and in Truro -- talked about her legacy.

The agricultural college is planning a scholarship in her name. Virginia Tech is doing the same. And the L’École acadienne she founded in 1997 has grown from 36 students to 118. The school's first class of seniors graduated just last year.

"We used to take hikes in the woods," Parker said, "she touched and smelled and felt everything."

-- William Wan, The Washington Post

Chronicle of Higher Education Profile:

When Sue W. Farquhar, associate professor of French at Virginia Tech, interviewed Jocelyne Couture-Nowak for a position in the department, the candidate’s enthusiasm immediately made Ms. Farquhar break out in a “radiant smile,” even though the conversation took place over the phone.

The department hired Ms. Couture-Nowak because of interest in cognitive approaches to how people learn languages, and her fervor for teaching.

“She was a spark of energy in our department,” says Ms. Farquhar, “radiating joy of discovery, and always expressing dedication to her students.”

In addition to teaching, Ms. Couture-Nowak was the faculty adviser to two French clubs. On the Web site Rate VT Teachers, she received five stars, the highest mark possible, from each former student.

She was a proud French Canadian, originally from Montreal. She played an instrumental role in helping to found L’École acadienne de Truro in 1997, the first French-language elementary and secondary school in Truro, Nova Scotia, where she lived in the 1990s with her husband, Jerzy Nowak, now head of the horticulture department at Virginia Tech. In Nova Scotia she was known as one of three “mothers” of the school.

“French culture, especially French-Canadian culture, animated her teaching and was the key to inspiring her students to love French,” says Ms. Farquhar.

Ms. Couture-Nowak also spent plenty of time in the pool, where she was a fierce competitor and used to win so many medals, she clanked when she walked by, friends say. She often brought her two daughters to swimming lessons or dropped off treats for the lifeguards. She loved gardening, dancing, and taking long hikes.

Friends say they admired the life she lived, and her verve. “Not once did she seem downcast or discouraged by a hard day,” says Ms. Farquhar.

—Lauren Smith

Friends mourn 'sunshine' shot down at Virginia Tech (via Yahoo News)

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak's friends in Nova Scotia are trying to come to grips with how a loving, non-violent person could be killed in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

"She was just incredible," said Heather Parker, "and it's just not a way such a person should pass away."

Couture-Nowak, a French instructor, was among the 33 dead in Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech. Her husband Jerzy Nowak, a horticulture professor, was not hurt.

Originally from Montreal, Couture-Nowak moved to Truro and attended the Nova Scotia Teachers College. That's where she and Parker met.

Parker says she was struck immediately by how bright and passionate her new friend was about the French language and education. Along with another friend, they were instrumental in establishing a French school called the L’École Acadienne de Truro in 1997.

'Always a smile'

It's the image of Jocelyne's face that is burned into Lloyd Mapplebeck's memory.

"She was always an outgoing person," said Mapplebeck, a family friend for nearly 20 years. "Always a smile on her face and I just keep seeing her."

Marie-Claude Rioux says it was very easy to like Couture-Nowak. The two taught school at the military base in Shearwater in the mid-1990s.

"Jocelyne was sunshine, really," said Rioux. "She was someone that you wanted to be around.

"Jocelyne was very passionate about everything she was doing, was a wonderful teacher but she was also a wonderful mother and, I mean, she was totally in love with her husband Jerzy."

The couple left for Virginia six years ago, when Nowak, who had taught at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) for 17 years, accepted a position as a department head at Virginia Tech.

Wendy LeBlanc, a longtime friend, says Couture-Nowak was apprehensive about the move to the United States.

"She was very reticent, very concerned about the violence, the guns," said LeBlanc. "She was concerned for her children, for her family."

Flags at NSAC, where Couture-Nowak also taught, were lowered to half-mast in her honour.

Wednesday, April 18

Students, stories shape French teacher's memorial

"I enjoyed every class I had with her. I wish I could have had every French class I am ever going to have with her," student Colin Goddard said.

Roanoke Times, 4/25/07

BLACKSBURG -- Jocelyne Couture-Nowak loved speaking French so much that she refused to talk to her nephew in English when he visited, to help him get better at it.

Ginette Couture told that and many other stories about her sister Tuesday at a memorial service for the adjunct professor of French who was killed on the Virginia Tech campus with 31 others April 16.

Hundreds sat or stood on the grounds of the Peggy Hahn Horticulture Pavilion to remember a woman called "Jo Jo" by her family and "Madame" by her students.

Speaking near the end of the ceremony, after many other speakers had made people both laugh and cry with their stories, Couture said, "Thank you for remembering her. Thank you for talking about her. She's not just another number -- not just another statistic."

Colin Goddard, who was shot three times in the attack that killed Couture-Nowak and so many others, was helped from a wheelchair to the podium, where he said, "I enjoyed every class I had with her. I wish I could have had every French class I am ever going to have with her."

In remarks laced with French phrases his teacher would probably have loved to hear, another student, John Welch, said Couture-Nowak was a joy to be around. He said she was passionate about both her heritage as a French Canadian and the institution for which she worked.

"I know when I get across that big Drillfield in the sky for one last class with Madame, everyone will know what a Hokie is," Welch said, referring to the center of Tech's campus and its mascot.

Richard Shryock, chairman of Tech's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, said Couture-Nowak's engaging personality helped make her an ideal teacher of intermediate French, which is often the first university-level course for students who may go on to study the language in greater depth.

"She not only prepared them to continue," Shryock said. "She inspired them to continue."

Even though Couture-Nowak's husband, Jerzy Nowak, is head of Tech's Department of Horticulture, Couture-Nowak seemed to be the boss when it came to the family garden, joked Megan Hicks, a neighbor.

"Such memories now make us cry for a while," she continued. "But it is followed by a smile. We look forward to smiling more than crying."

Shortly before the ceremony ended with a singing performance, Nowak read prepared words to his wife: "Jocelyne, my darling, if heaven exists, this is your heaven. You are surrounded by family and friends you cherish, by students you respect and passionately help to succeed. By kind people who love you and respect you for who you are.

"We all honor you in this peaceful garden, this great university and this wonderful community that you and I embrace as our home. Now, listen to the music."

Her song, of course, was in French.

By Albert Raboteau

Virginia Tech Magazine Profile (5/07)

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, French Canadian, beloved mother, wife, and a member of the Blacksburg community, in which she and her family have lived since 2001, passed away on April 16, 2007, while engaged in her passion, teaching Intermediate French at Virginia Tech. Jocelyne was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1958 and lived both in Quebec and Nova Scotia before moving to Blacksburg.

Her family, friends, students, and colleagues will remember her community spirit, her love of nature, and her dedication to the preservation of her francophone heritage. She would approach anyone she heard speaking French to welcome them to the local francophone community. Before she moved to Virginia, Ms. Couture-Nowak was instrumental in the development of the École Acadienne de Truro, Nova Scotia, to ensure access of francophone families to a safe school environment and French language education. The school opened in 1997. Her youngest daughter, Sylvie, was one of its first students.

Jocelyne met her future husband, Jerzy Nowak, while both were teaching at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro in the 1990s. The couple left Truro after her husband was appointed as head of the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech.

Jocelyne’s brutal death contrasts sharply with her peaceful life, filled with family hikes in the bucolic countryside of her homes in the forests of Nova Scotia and Southwest Virginia, her flower-filled home gardens, her congenial gatherings with friends and students, and her cherished family. She died in the school setting that had been the touchstone of her life.

Jocelyne’s joie de vivre touched all those who encountered her. An unusual blend of energy and grace, she was characterized in her memorial service as “effervescent” and a “vivacious swirl of life force.” Without a doubt, Jocelyne possessed the wonderful gift of bringing joy by living joy. May that spirit, her spirit, be lived by those who so remember her.

Memorial Scholarship

Through the Virginia Tech Foundation, the Jocelyne Couture-Nowak Memorial Scholarship has been established at Virginia Tech in her memory. For more information and/or to donate to this memorial fund, see VT's Hokie Spirit Memorial Funds page.