I first met my dear friend Linda McKillop more than 30 years ago. I met her in the waiting room at the then Clarence Community Health Centre. I was a 24 year old ‘speechie’ working there two days each week; she was a 22 year old speechie working for the Education Department in the same area of Hobart.

We met because we’d identified that we were each working with siblings in the same family. We thought that it would be good to calibrate and coordinate our messages.

Linda was a new graduate of Curtin University in WA. At that time, Curtin had the reputation of turning out speech pathology graduates who were fiercely knowledgeable, utterly sure of themselves, and who were focused on the craft with laser-like precision.

That was Linda.

On the occasion we met she shared with me some parent hand-outs she’d written about book-sharing and language development.

Far out!

I read and used parent hand-outs about book-sharing and language development, but I didn’t write them. I was a long way from feeling like I had that sort of authority or mastery.

I found Linda a little bit scary. Yet so tender. Looking back, the ‘scary’ part was clearly a projection of my own sense of inadequacy. An awe-filled response to Linda’s confidence and knowledge. But the tender part, well, that’s all her. She is that gal and always has been.

Linda moved away from Tassie not long after we met. Like so many new speech pathology graduates. They come. They bushwalk this great place. They laugh in its markets and walk the beaches. Then go.

Luckily for Tasmania though, Linda met the love of her life in the couple of years she was here. And John brought her back when the wandering was out of their systems.

We’ve known each other closely for the past 15 years. That’s how long we’ve been working together in the same speech pathology practice. Over that time we’ve helped each other, mentored each other, laughed and lamented, shared and planned. We’ve seen each other’s kids grow up. In shared joy we’ve seen those kids all fulfill the promises of the amazing little people they were when we connected. We’ve had life. It’s been a privilege.

Linda is a voracious reader of scientific material emerging from our field. Over those years her confidence and knowledge have advanced in strong steps. She has intentionally focused her practice in those two areas she first mentioned to me way back in 1988 – book-sharing and language development. And she’s combined these sets of knowledges to understand the deep mechanics and processes by which we humans learn to read. She knows as much as any world expert on this topic. And more than many. Because she’s also been applying the craft as she’s learned it. It’s not just up there in her head. It comes out of her fingers, the warmth of her smiles, and the intelligence within her choices of activities and goals for any individual. Those who’ve worked with her know exactly what I mean.

On a very hot day in January three years ago Linda and I sat together at a coffee shop up the road from the practice. It was the season of the clinic’s Role Development Interviews. This is the It’s-All-About-You version of a performance review that we use in our clinic. The opening question was something like ‘What do you want and how can the practice help you achieve it?’ Linda was very clear, ‘I want to bring the things that I have learned, to teachers. It’s information that should be in teachers’ hands. That’s where we’ll get the changes in the literacy levels that we seek for this state.’

So we shape-shifted Linda’s daily tasks and turned some wheels.

In January this year, Linda qualified as a Master Trainer for Australia of the Yoshimoto Orton-Gillingham Dyslexia Institute. She is now delivering mastery-level training of structured language interventions for literacy-acquistion disorders. The scientific literature clearly shows these are essential processes for mastering written language – no matter what disorder or disadvantage lies behind the problem. Linda is qualified to train teachers, other speech pathologists, learning assistants, parents, volunteers and anybody who wants to understand this work.

She’s incredible. I love her. Our team love her. We are so proud of her. We are so fortunate to have her in Tasmania. Thank you John. Thank you that we are the beneficiaries of the out-workings of young, and then enduring, love. And also of her young, and then enduring, passion for the power and equity that lies within language and literacy.

Linda was destined for this change-making chapter in the life of Tasmanians. She has everything we need for it. Her fierce knowledge… and her tenderness.