Halfway through the conversation, Mieke Brockhoff stands up. When she sits down again, she is holding a large book in her arms with a red flower on the shiny white cover. The petals in the middle turn into waves of the sea. In her ever-tidy office, her daughter Mariëtte had a large picture of a flower on the wall, and her bereavement card featured a photograph of that beach. This was what inspired Mariëtte’s former students, assume her parents. The students asked an artist to help with the design the book, but the personal stories in the book are their own. These are about how special Mariëtte was to them.
So much grief, so much love
This Friday, the eldest daughter of Frans Kaandorp and Mieke would have turned 37. On 20 November 2020, Mariëtte unexpectedly passed away from a pulmonary embolism. She had been working as a university lecturer at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) for three years by then. This is where she also conducted research into cognition, high intelligence, intuition and the processes of social interaction in the workplace. The multitude of messages, gestures, letters and visits from her colleagues, (former) students and the parents of students is something that surprised Mariëtte’s parents.
“We received so much love”, says Frans. “A month after her death, two students came by”, Mieke goes on to say. Their wedding anniversary was on 20 December, which is why she remembers it so precisely. “They gave us the book with their and other student’s recollections. It shows how academically competent and engaged she was. In one letter, a mother wrote us that Mariëtte had helped her son through a difficult period. His voice breaking, Frans adds: “she also wrote: ‘Education has lost a gem.’”
The many loving reactions give Frans an idea: a prize for involved and inspiring teachers. He proposes it to Mariëtte’s manager who in turn passes it on to the Dean of RSM. That’s how the ball started rolling. The Mariëtte Kaandorp Prize for Excellence in Thesis Mentoring was born and will be awarded for at least five years. Students can nominate their supervisor for the prize each year.
The first winner was announced in December: Richard Haans. His students call him ‘passionate, supportive and contagiously enthusiastic’.
First winner of the Mariëtte Kaandorp Prize is Richard Haans
Richard Haans is the first winner of the Mariëtte Kaandorp Prize for Excellence in…
Mariëtte was a great connector so the prize is a reward for establishing good connections between students and ther teacher. That is how her manager sees it. Professor and head of the Department of Organisation and Personnel Steffen Giessner says that Mariëtte served as a linchpin in the department, as she had experience with both quantitative and qualitative research. “Before her arrival, we used to be split into two departments, one more quantitative and one more qualitative. In part thanks to her, we have since become one. Both sides liked her right away when she applied for the job.” Colleagues have also made a book for her parents with their own memories of her.
She was a connector, not just in the workplace, but also among her students, recalls Giessner. “She could not only sense talent, but also who tended to fall outside of the group. Even the lone wolves felt they were part of something thanks to her. She was a great teacher. Students always rated her as excellent.”
When asked about how he remembers Mariëtte, Giessner soon starts laughing. He describes her as ‘direct, attentive and always well-prepared.’ “When we had a meeting, she would come in with a list of questions. ‘How are we going to do this? How are we going to do that?’ If I started to feel stressed, she would say, ‘I have a few suggestions’. She had an answer to every question. I just had to say ‘yes’, ‘that’s fine’, or ‘let’s do it’. I am sure she had already looked for those answers to save me from any work-related stress.”
When hearing anecdotes about their daughter, Mieke and Frans beam with pride. The couple is sitting to the left and right of the table. You can see the mantelpiece in the background, right between the two of them. It is full of picture frames and a few Christmas cards. The photos are of their family, children and grandchild. Mariëtte can be seen in an old school photo and in a more recent group shot.
“Mariëtte was really into the art of teaching”, says her father. He is extremely proud of that. The family is a ‘real family of teachers’. He himself worked in education for 40 years and Mieke spent many years working at the University of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. “We talked a lot about what good education is and how she could make her own teaching style more dynamic. This was during her time at the Vrije Universiteit. Her colleagues later asked her: ‘How come you get so much great feedback on your lectures?’ and ‘How do you get your students to work so much?’ That made me feel so proud.”
Mariette’s resilience is what Mieke is most proud of. ” Also, with all her talents, she was just a very sweet and good person. She never let things get her down. If something was bothering me, she was the one who said: ‘There is another way to see this, you know’”. Mariëtte livened things up, her mother recalls. “She always had a plan for a fun trip. Frans and I used to say to each other, ‘When we retire, she’ll probably plan that for us too.'”
Where her parents were brimming with pride, Mariëtte was decidedly modest, her parents and manager tell us. Would she have considered the prize an honour? “Oh, no”, her mother responds immediately. “She would have thought that was excessive. She was far too modest for that.”But in her heart she would have been proud of it, her parents are sure of that.
Mieke and Frans therefore had not asked for the prize to be named after their child. That was a proposal from the university, but one that they fully support. They are full of praise for how the EUR has treated them. They contributed ideas for the prize, attended the Opening of the Academic Year to commemorate the deaths of students and staff members, and were asked to come up with ideas for a work of art in tribute to their daughter. The chosen artist, Lies Goemans, eventually made one painting for the campus.
Although she was modest, Mariëtte could certainly be proud, says her mother. “Proud of her doctoral title. Proud of us as her parents. Proud of her name – she loved it. Proud of her sister. Those two were always there for each other. They were no longer allowed to be together on the same team when playing Pictionary, since one sister would draw a line and the other would immediately shout: ‘An elephant!’ And she would be right too! Yes, we miss Mariëtte terribly. There’s a hole in our family that will never be filled again.” Her father ends with: “We hope that her legacy, her passion for excellent education, will live on.”