A Life's Story

May 07, 2022

Family-first professor of psychology lauded as tireless advocate

Rayleen De Luca, 79, developed ground-breaking research in area of child abuse

By: Janine LeGal

Rayleen De Luca had a way of bringing out the best in people. She knew how to listen, creating safe environments in which everyone felt comfortable to talk about — well, anything.

Her oldest son, Troy, describes his mother as warm, empathetic, brilliant and insightful, making everyone she met feel like the most important person in the world.

“She made our house the drop-in centre and treated our friends like family; our friends would love to come over and just sit and talk,” Troy says.

“All topics were on the table for conversations from politics to human behavior. She never said, ‘I’m the expert;’ you just felt like you were talking to someone who knows.”

De Luca devoted her life to care: first of her own children, then professionally, achieving a doctorate in the field of psychology that focused on children and their mental health and well-being.

She became a highly respected and sought-after child psychologist in Manitoba and beyond, and recognized as one of Canada’s foremost researchers for her pioneering work in the area of child sexual abuse.

She died March 22, after a battle with cancer, at age 79.

De Luca’s impact was widespread and saved lives, as these words from a 15-year-old client convey:

“When I was in my darkest times, Rayleen was the sun that broke through the clouds above me and brought light and hope back into my life. Rayleen, I can say without a doubt, is the reason I’m still living. Every day, I look for the sun just to see her. I could never thank Rayleen enough or do her enough justice for what she did for me… Rayleen will always be here as long as the sun still shines.”

Passionate and focused about her calling, Troy says you could predict one thing about his mother when children were involved.

“She always ensured their well-being was the only constant amongst the variables of the situation. She worked with the most vulnerable individuals, likely in the highest risk for self-harm.”

As a professor at the University of Manitoba in the department of psychology, it was noted “De Luca was the first woman to hold the position of director of clinical training. Her colleagues and peers of the Manitoba Psychological Society recognized her distinguished contribution to the profession of psychology when they awarded her the prestigious Clifford Robson Award.”

A tireless advocate and inspiration to women, De Luca was active in countless community organizations with a focus on solutions to violence and abuse. Nominated as a Canadian representative to the United Nations Status of Women Committee, she was not afraid to speak out against injustices, and inspired others to do the same.

Michelle Hume met De Luca at the University of Manitoba.

“At the time, Rayleen was a female role model, blazing the way for other women aspiring to achieve a higher education,” Hume says of her friend and colleague.

“Eventually, the pilot project that Rayleen and I were working on morphed into a treatment program at a provincial level, producing publishable research and warranting professional presentations,” Hume says.

“Our professional relationship broadened even further when Rayleen decided to open a private practice to offer her professional skills to children and families in need of psychological services. I can recall meeting with Rayleen over lunch, when she asked me to join her in her ‘little practice’ and become her partner and associate.

“Rayleen’s ‘little practice’ was a huge success and enabled countless people to receive the help they needed. Rayleen was a remarkable woman who touched so many people and left a tremendous mark on our community and my life.”

De Luca never hesitated to freely give her time. She also served as president of the Folk Arts Council, vice-chairwoman of the board of governors of St. Paul’s College, and on a national ad hoc committee on the protection of minors and vulnerable people.

Recognized extensively for her academic and professional leadership and commitment, she received a long list of awards spanning several decades. Most notably in recent years, she was named a Manitoba Trailblazer Recipient in 2021, and received the Order of Canada in 2017.

Invitations led to presentations nationally and internationally; her publications were translated into multiple languages and her research in the area of child abuse and family violence was identified as ground-breaking.

Born in Shawinigan, Que., on April 29, 1942, De Luca spent all but a year of her life in Winnipeg. At the centre of her world was her family, and her devoted husband of 58 years, Vincent.

“The first time I saw Rayleen was Dec. 24, 1958, in the basement of the old Holy Rosary Church on Sherbrook Street,” Vincent says. “The next time I saw her was at the same place on June 7, 1959. Thus began a journey of love that lasted 63 years. Rayleen was never just my wife; she was my life.”

When asked what she believed and hoped her legacy would be, without hesitation De Luca said her family, her love for her children (Troy and Trevor), her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“She was an amazing woman inside and out,” says youngest son Trevor. “She truly made everyone feel as if they were the most important thing at that moment, and they were. She will always be my hero.”

Troy cherishes the life-long talks he had with his mother.

“After I was out at a party, I would always stop in her room and we would talk through the events; what did it mean when so and so would do that or say this, (was there) deeper meaning behind it? I would get real-time feedback,” he says.

“Words were very important to her. We would sit and have spirited debates and then switch sides and have more spirited debates, which taught me to not only see things from multiple sides but be able to discuss them and carry the point.

“She was by far the biggest and greatest female influence in my life. I was fortunate to grow up with a strong, confident female from the time I can remember.”

passages@freepress.mb.ca

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