Karen Thiffault

Karen Thiffault
Office Administrator and Customer Service
Place of Birth: 
Toronto, ON
Year of Death: 
Graduation Years: 
1966-76, St.George Campus; 1990-2010, UTM
First Year Employed at UTM/U of T: 
Department / Division: 
Computing Services

"UTM was Karen’s world; she thrived here and really enjoyed it.”  

Diane Mesch, colleague

“Karen was the face of the department and had a personal touch; she was able to deal with all kinds of difficult situations.”

Rishi Arora, colleague

“Karen brought laughter and brightness to the office every day.”

Joe Lim, supervisor

The late Karen Thiffault set such a high standard for customer service at U of T Mississauga that there is now an award in her memory honouring others who give their all. The Karen Thiffault Staff Service Excellence Award recognizes service to UTM “that exceeds job parameters.”

“Hats off to the people who came up with the idea,” said Rishi Arora, manager of client services for Information and IT Services, a former colleague and friend. “It’s remarkable.”

 It was Thiffault’s outgoing personality that impressed Joe Lim, UTM’s retired chief information officer, who hired Thiffault in 1994 when he headed the Department of Computing Services.

“I was looking for someone to highlight the service in computing services and bring it to the forefront,” Lim said.

“Karen always smiled in front of the customers no matter how bad the situation was. I never really saw her upset about anything.  She made sure our users were served in a timely fashion.”

Arora, a student employee when Thiffault joined the department, later became her colleague.

“Karen was the first point of contact with computing services, so she was the face of the department,” Arora said. “She dealt with faculty, staff and students. She knew exactly how to handle stress and did it with a smile. It made a real difference to people.”

As the first woman to join computing services, Thiffault blazed a trail effortlessly, fitting herself easily into the team.

“She managed all of them,” said Diane Mesch, transaction services co-ordinator for UTM hospitality and retail services, who was the second woman to join the department. “She treated all of us as her children. She was a warm, welcoming person and was thoughtful, caring and super-supportive.”

Although her skill set grew with the job, it was her warmth, good cheer and caring that made her truly stand out. Even a battle with breast cancer didn’t dim her spirit. She organized group lunches for her colleagues, and the annual departmental pool party she hosted at her home was always a highlight of the year.

When Thiffault retired in 2010, she “left big shoes to fill,” said Lim. She kept in regular touch with her colleagues until her death in 2014.

“I miss her friendship and her smile,” Lim said. “She brought brightness into our office.”