In appreciation of Monica Flodman
One of the lasting joys of my association with the International Baccalaureate is the good fortune to have made so many friends around the world. Monica was one of the first.
The organization in 1983 was on the threshold of major expansion and required additional staff in the main offices. In particular I needed to hire someone to assist me on a daily basis in Switzerland, preferably someone with a clear knowledge of how the IB operated within a school. I was lucky that Monica expressed immediate interest in the position and registered very positively when the interviews were conducted. She was then in charge of the IB section at Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Laroverket in Sweden after holding a similar position at the Lycée International Saint Germain en Laye in Paris.
I admit to a sense of guilt in causing her to leave Sigtuna but her appointment to the position of assistant to the director general meant that suddenly I had a welcome source of hands-on information and instant collaboration in the adjacent room. Also I could engage in necessary travel with the confidence that the academic agenda of the office would continue to be addressed in my absence.
From the start it was clear that Monica loved working for the IB. She was very comfortable in the business climate of Geneva, and her excellent command of both French and English allowed her to move easily within the professional world of the city’s international community. Initially I had been surprised when she declined my offer to arrange for her plane ticket from Stockholm. Instead she intended to drive with her immediate belongings in her small Toyota. I didn’t know that there was an IKEA store not far from her new apartment and she would be buying much of what she needed there. Once she settled in, it didn’t take long for me to witness how devoted she was to her work and how readily she put in incredibly long hours in order to get things done. Many times I would go to the office on a Saturday or Sunday in advance of a week when I would be traveling. And there she was – never far from her desk. Often it was hard to convince her to take time for herself so I was pleased later on when Lisa came to live with her for several months since this occasionally prompted the two of them to relax together at the lake or in the countryside on weekends.
As more schools joined, Monica was asked to assume new responsibility, eventually taking on the role of regional director for Europe while still based in Geneva. This return to the world of students and teachers put new demands on her and yet she responded with her characteristic enthusiasm and determination to offer the best service she could provide. She was tireless in arranging workshops, visiting the schools and giving freely of her pastoral care. Her commitment was such that from time to time I found myself trying to hold her back. On one occasion she mentioned that she was having difficulty confirming travel arrangements to visit a school in central Russia. There was a shortage of aviation fuel and the airline couldn’t guarantee which day the flight would leave. She planned to go anyway. “But Monica,” I said, “getting there is only half the problem. How do you know it will be possible to get back?” “I’ll take care of that when I’m there,” she replied. Fortunately I prevailed on her to wait – which was just as well since it turned out that there would indeed have been a considerable delay in the return via Moscow.
Travel stories of this kind are well known to those of us who have undertaken numerous journeys as a routine part of our work. Two others involving Monica occurred in very different places, one on the coast of Maine in the United States and the other in West Africa.
Some fifteen years or so ago the regional directors met at the Tides Inn across the road from Goose Rocks Beach near Kennebunkport. The location was delightful – a wide expansive beach, seagulls, numerous small islands just offshore and a marvelous blue sky with lots of sunshine. We arrived in mid afternoon, settled in and gathered later for supper together in the dining area. A busy agenda was on tap for the next morning but we decided to meet early and go for a walk along the beach before breakfast.
Two surprises greeted us when we convened on the steps outside the entrance door at an early hour. The ocean mist was so thick that it was literally impossible to see across the road – and Monica was missing from the group. Assuming she had overslept, we started the walk without her. As we progressed along the beach, we could hear the gulls above and the sound of the waves coming ashore to our right but the majestic panorama of the day before was completely blocked by the dense mist which was even thicker at the water’s edge. So much for enjoying the view! A short while later we happened to stumble across a small pile of clothes, a pair of casual shoes and a towel on the sand just above the high tide mark. Our first reaction was that someone must have forgotten them. One of us then recognized the shoes as being similar to the ones Monica had worn the day before. Could it be that she had started out ahead of us and gone for a swim? Out there in the fog! In the notoriously frigid water! We could hear the waves hitting the shore beside us and the numerous other beaches of the islands we could no longer see. How would she know where she had left her clothes or which beach to swim back to? Was she in any danger? “Don’t worry,” someone said. “She’s Swedish. She’s been in cold water before. She’ll find her way.” And she did.
The event in West Africa took place at an IB school in Ghana where a large group of heads and coordinators from the Europe-Africa-Middle East region had gathered for a conference. On the final night, after a memorable outdoor barbecue and student concert, we were all back in our rooms, packed and ready for departure the next day when our sleep was interrupted by a violent storm passing through the area. I remember the incredible noise of the thunder and lightning waking me up to find the lashing rain pouring through the open windows. Immediately I got up and shut the louvers. Next morning the floor was still wet but no permanent damage had been done. Half an hour later I was having breakfast with others and discussing the night’s storm when Monica came to join us. She was fine apart from looking as though she had just emerged fully clothed from a swimming pool. She went on to explain that it must have rained during the night because when she awoke as the sun came up, she found that her bed, all her clothes and the entire contents of her suitcase had been completely drenched. Apparently she had enjoyed an excellent night’s rest and had slept through everything, quite unaware of the violent forces of nature that had kept the rest of us awake. Despite her soggy state, however, she was as exuberant as ever and ready for the long day ahead, hopeful that she would have dried out by the time it came to board the plane back to Europe.
The history of the International Baccalaureate is full of anecdotes of this kind that illuminate the organisation’s success and underscore the extraordinary role played by so many talented individuals over the years. The early pioneers of the 1960s and 70s set the stage for a second generation of contributors who expanded the horizons to encompass schools and academic institutions on every continent. Monica played an important part in this new phase, leaving her mark throughout the Nordic countries and across much of Central & Eastern Europe. Her generous affection for the ever increasing circle of friends whom she shepherded into the IB is reflected in their appreciation of her and their spontaneous recognition of all that she did on their behalf. No one could ask for a more genuine legacy.
Late in her career she opted to move back to Stockholm. The two of us discussed this many times in the months before she left Geneva. She wasn’t sure when to go but I knew immediately that it was the right thing to do. The new location would put her closer to the heart of her professional responsibilities and allow her to spend more time with Kristina, Lisa, their husbands and her cherished grandchildren. It would be good for her and she deserved to be home again. In particular I remember sharing her obvious excitement when she bought her new apartment on the water with the opportunity of taking the ferry to her office in the old part of the city in the summer months. Sadly many of us shared too in the misfortune of her illness, just as we now mourn that she is no longer with us. At the same time there is every reason to celebrate all that she meant to her loving family and countless colleagues in so many countries. She touched both their lives and ours -- and we will always be grateful for the chance to have been part of hers.
Roger M Peel