Joanne Pickford is the unofficial mom of the AMS

Anyone who has talked to Joanne Pickford knows positivity and joy seem to emanate from her.

Even during a Friday afternoon interview in the Gallery — as bass-heavy music blasted through the speakers and students talked over drinks and food at nearby tables — it was easy to stay focused on Pickford, her warm demeanor and smile lighting up the space.

Most students probably have never met or heard of Pickford. As the AMS’s administrative assistant, she mostly works in the background, offering support to the student executives and doing other behind-the-scenes administrative work.

But over the past 16 years, Pickford has helped the AMS’s student executives do their jobs. She is always willing to offer advice and answer questions and attends every AMS Council meeting — even when they go into the late hours of a Wednesday night.

“I love supporting the students,” she said, a sentiment she kept coming back to throughout her interview with The Ubyssey.

Sixteen years ago, Pickford was in between jobs after finishing a maternity contract position with Paprican, now the UBC Pulp and Paper Centre, when an old friend from elementary school gave her a call.

Her friend, who worked at the AMS’s reception desk (and still does), knew Pickford’s situation and told her about a few job openings at the AMS, including for an administrative assistant.

“I was quite excited when I got the call to get this job,” Pickford recalled, saying she loves to work supporting others.

Pickford also said the job allowed her to stay involved in her kids' lives, dropping them off at school while on her commute to campus and attending their elementary school performances.

“It gave me something I really like to do and it really fit in with my life.”

While Pickford has continued to show up for work at the AMS over the years, her bosses — the five student executives — have come and gone, roughly every 12 months as students elect a new slate of leadership during annual AMS Elections in the spring.

Many people would find this constant turnover challenging, but Pickford said she likes the dynamic atmosphere.

“It makes it much, much more interesting … because you’re with new personalities,” she said while likening meeting the newly-elected executives to going on several first dates.

Despite the revolving door of supervisors, Pickford said she mostly continues to do what she has always done — supporting the executives in whatever way they need — while making slight adjustments to fit within the new leadership’s working style.

Pickford’s job as support staff has led executives and other staff members at the AMS to call her the 'mom' of the organization — a title she embraces.

“It makes me feel old, but I do take it as a compliment because people love their moms,” she said, jokingly adding that she could be peoples’ big sister instead.

But like many moms, Pickford often offers advice and guidance to executives when needed.

“You can impart some kind of life knowledge or things that have been tried in the past or at the AMS and just say, ‘Well, this has been tried, and it was either really great or you might want to think about that one.’”

She also said she tries to let the AMS executives figure things out for themselves as much as possible but she is always there to support them if things don’t go according to plan.

“I try and leave it as a real growth period for those to learn to crash because this is where they can do that,” she said. “And to hug them if they crash.”

Pickford said she also learns from student executives, saying they teach her about new technology to help her stay current.

Being an unofficial mom also means that Pickford does her best to stay neutral during discussions.

During AMS Council meetings, this means sitting back and watching executives and councillors work through different issues.

“Of course, sometimes you think, ‘You guys did great,’ or ‘What were you thinking?’ But again it’s their growing period, and we’re here to support them.”

When asked if she expected to stay this long with the AMS, Pickford said she didn’t really think about it when she first started. Despite that, Pickford has settled into her role — her office holding years of memories, including a “little therapeutic [rocking] horse” that holds student executive’s business cards.

“It’s like any job. You go and if you like it you stay, and if you don’t you gotta make that call and move on."