Wikimedian Cindy Ashley-Nelson dies at conference in Berlin

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

File photo of Cynthia Ashley-Nelson from 2006
Image: Cynthia Ashley-Nelson.

Cynthia Ashley-Nelson died the night before last while attending the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin, Germany. She was very active in the Wikimedia movement, and was named the vice-chair of Wikimedia's Affiliations Committee on Thursday, the day prior to her death, after only having joined the Committee earlier this year. The day before she died, she spent a lot of time talking to a number of the event's attendees and spent time with several members of the Affiliations Committee.

An announcement regarding her death was made on the main Wikimedia mailing list this morning by Bence Dakamos, a conference attendee and the previous chair of the Affiliations Committee. In part, the e-mail announcement said, "We are sad beyond words and so is everyone who came to Berlin to participate in the Wikimedia Conference. Her passing is a great loss for everyone in the Wikimedia movement. This morning all the conference attendees gathered together to grieve and talk about the loss of Cindy. We decided that all of us at the Wikimedia Conference could choose to continue the conversations about the future of the movement Cindy cared so much about, as well as spending our time here to remember and celebrate her. She will be greatly missed."

Fellow Affiliations Committee member Gregory Varnum said, "The Lord giveth, and The Lord taketh away. While the passage of time may allow us to forgive whatever greater presence you may believe in for taking her away, the passage of time will not result in us forgetting the amazing person she was, her passion for our movement, or the brilliance she brought to her volunteer work."

Wikimedia Foundation board member María Sefidari said in her part on her personal blog, "I got to know Cindy a bit beyond that, for she wanted to test ideas and potential directions in which to take the movement. We would send each other long emails about movement roles and how to move forward with the movement. And as it usually happens, conversations turned from the more formal to the informal, eventually including little snippets of our every day lives, the good things that happened to us and the not so good. When we met for the first time face to face two days ago, we gave each other a big hug. In the session we had during the AffCom meeting she once again showed her passion and commitment to help reimagine the role of AffCom and how to help emerging and new affiliates. And at the end of that session, she was confirmed as the new vice-chair of AffCom. That speaks to the impact she made inside the committee in such a short time. I think our last interaction was about getting together at some moment during the conference to just hang out and talk. She had a great smile."

Ashley-Nelson was actively involved in many parts of the Wikimedia community beyond her position on the Affiliations Committee. She served as a moderator on the Wikimedia Foundation's gendergap mailing list, a list dedicated to addressing the under representation of women as contributors. She became an Open-source Ticket Request System agent, handling requests from Wikimedia users who had problems they needed assistance with issues like copyright. She was an administrator on English Wikipedia. She had previously been a member of Wikimedia's Grant Advisory Committee, where she assisted in reviewing grant applications submitted by members of the Wikimedia community. She was involved with Wikimedia's Global Education Program, assisting students and professors with improving articles about global and United States public policy. She was also involved in the education program as an Online Ambassador, a member of the Ambassador Selection Team and Wikipedia Ambassador Steering Committee.

An active Wikipedia contributor since 2007, she made over 30,000 contributions to English Wikipedia. She wrote eight Did You Knows that appeared on the front page of the project, and contributed to two Good Articles, the Washington: A Life article and the Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 10th Earl of Shaftesbury article. The day prior to her death, she welcomed a number of new users to the project and did other editing tasks like removing copyright violations and cleaning up promotional language found in articles.

A Washington state resident, she was the founder and Executive Director of Catalyst Resource Network, having started the organization in December 2006. During the course of her professional career, she also worked for the Sycamore Street Review as a staff writer, Hookers for Jesus as the organization's Vice President, the Mental Health Planning and Advisory Council for the State of Washington, and several other roles for the State of Washington. She was honored several times in connection with her work.

Members of the Affiliations Committee got together for a breakfast before heading to the conference. A grief counselor was available at the conference. A brief tribute was held at the start of today's proceedings, which Sefidari described as "touching".


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