Suleeporn “Sulee” Sailer officially began working at the Re-Use-It Centre in 2008, making her the Whistler Community Services Society’s (WCSS) longest-serving employee. But her time with the social-service provider stretches back even further than that.
“Her official start date with us was Feb. 4, 2008 … but she volunteered well before that,” explained WCSS executive director Jackie Dickinson. “At some point, the organization said, ‘Sulee, we need to start paying you because you’re in our stores so much.’”
It is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of who Sailer was: deeply committed to giving back in whatever way she could, without needing the accolades or recognition that went with it.
The Thai native and longtime Whistlerite died suddenly last week at 73, hours after finishing her shift at the Re-Use-It Centre, where she was a fixture, as well as at the Re-Build-It, for years.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Sailer had, not only on her colleagues at WCSS, but in the community at large, said Re-Build-It manager Rowland Stanley.
“She was kind of like everyone’s grandmother. She cared about people,” he said. “It’s not just us at WCSS. It’s not just her husband or her literal family. It’s hundreds of people in Whistler who’ve just lost someone.
“She’s been the heart and soul of WCSS since before I worked here, before many people worked here.”
A fashionista with an impeccable style herself, Sailer would often remember her clients’ tastes, going out of her way to put aside a particular piece of clothing if she thought it suited them. Dickinson told the story of the time Sailer set aside a pair of soccer cleats for her then-five-year-old son—in his favourite colour, orange.
“He believed by putting on these shoes that he was a superhero,” she added. “I think that’s a great example of what she did for each person. When they were designated an item, ... they walked away feeling way better than when they started, which is essentially the whole purpose of what we do.”
That extended to the people she worked with at WCSS. Recognizing the inherent challenges that come with living in Whistler, Sailer was quick to offer a helping hand to her younger coworkers in ways large and small.
“Whether it was housing insecurity or relationship insecurity or financial insecurity, she was always there for them. She lent them money. She would help them open bank accounts. She would buy them things if they needed something,” remembered husband Alan. “She wanted them to feel special and she wanted them to feel comfortable and not be all stressed out. It’s amazing. I’m getting all this outpouring from all these kids, many of them are scattered around [the world].”
More often than not, Sailer expressed her love and care through food. Known for her incredible cooking skills, Sailer was adept at pretty much any cuisine, and would often make much more than she and her husband could eat themselves simply so she could bring leftovers to WCSS the next day.
“She’d often walk around with a Tupperware container and you’d think, ‘Who is she bringing this container of food to?’ and she’d seek them out and know exactly that they needed it,” Dickinson said. “It was made by her and made with love.”
But you didn’t even have to know Sailer personally to benefit from her deep well of generosity. Longtime friend and local lawyer Greg Diamond shared the story of a time Sailer picked up a hitchhiker on the side of Highway 99 and, recognizing he was “working below his potential,” she invited the stranger back to her house for a little brainstorming (and food, of course). By the end of their conversation, Sailer had convinced the man to enrol at the University of British Columbia and today he has a successful career in accounting.
“She had this really unique ability to speak very frankly without upsetting anyone,” Diamond said. “To me, that was her special skill that allowed her to help so many young people who were less fortunate or struggling.”
An avid hiker who was in great shape for her age, Sailer’s passing came as a shock to all those who knew her (a cause of death has yet to be determined). For husband Alan, it was a stark reminder to show the people you love what they mean to you—something that was never a problem for Sailer.
“You never know how many people you touch in your life until something like this happens,” he said. “In the course of our day, every time we see somebody we like, we can’t just give them a hug and a kiss and tell them how much we love them, because it would be weird. But maybe we should.”
A celebration of life is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 26 at one of Sailer’s favourite local spots, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, on the Woodlands Rooftop. In fact, the morning after her passing, WCSS arranged for the Fairmont team to cater a lunch for staff in honour of one of its own, with a seat reserved for Sailer.
“That’s how she showed her love, so we wanted to show it back,” Dickinson said.