A tribute to Dr. Karyn Purvis (1949-2016)

By Wendy Kittlitz

My acquaintance with Dr. Karyn Purvis was brief and relatively fleeting. Nevertheless, she inspired me and touched my life. And although I knew she was ill, I was shocked to hear of her passing on April 12th. Let me share with you my memories of this amazing woman.

I attended my first Empowered to Connect seminar in Nashville in 2011 and I was so impressed with Dr. Purvis and the content of the seminar. As someone who has worked with adoptive families for over 15 years, I could see right away that Dr. Purvis had great insights that I knew would help so many people! I immediately began some conversations about bringing her to Canada to train counsellors and parents here as well. 

We scheduled a one-day workshop in BC in the fall of 2012. I picked Dr. Purvis up from the airport the night before and was astonished by how openly and freely she began sharing with me about her work, her family and about her own health challenges. Before we even reached the hotel, she had invited me to be her guest to attend a TBRI® (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) intensive in Texas. And I knew I wanted to find a way to take her up on this very generous offer! I was very privileged to do so the following year. Following that intensive, we hosted Dr. Purvis as presenter for another workshop in Calgary, to be followed by another in Ontario in the fall of 2014.

Unfortunately, before that Ontario event took place, Dr. Purvis experienced a recurrence of the breast cancer she had fought earlier and was unable to attend in person. Instead we were very privileged to have Dr. Casey Call, one of Dr. Purvis’ associates, capably lead the seminar in her place.

I would see Dr. Purvis from time to time at other events and she never failed to recall who I was and how we knew one another. I was honestly really touched by that because I know that she met many, many people in her travels and I am sure it was difficult to recall every face and story. 

What I will remember most is how much Dr. Purvis conveyed value to each person she met. She referred to people as if they genuinely mattered to her. Whether she was talking about her grandchildren or her assistant or a child she had just met, each person was precious. In a world where the word “precious” is sometimes used in mocking ways, she imbued it with real meaning: she saw each one as precious, special, of high worth. You felt valuable in her presence. I felt valuable in her presence.

Another recollection I have is how seamlessly Dr. Purvis wove Scripture into much of her teaching. Each time she spoke she first asked me what the composition of her audience would be – believers or not – so she could be sensitive to the group. There was always a great theological depth to her understanding of how people function relationally, and that shone through no matter which audience she was addressing. It was evident to me that she knew and loved God’s Word deeply and that much of her wisdom was drawn right out of it.  

Dr. Purvis was also refreshingly candid. I was surprised a couple of times by confidences she shared, disappointments she confessed and even evaluations she observed. She had feelings and opinions that were deeply felt and she was not afraid to offer them in a collegial way, even though our relationship was fairly new and did not yet run very deep. I felt honoured to be trusted with some of her thoughts so quickly.

Finally, Karyn was the kind of mother we all long to have – and to be. For her, it seemed absolutely effortless to extend herself to others. I think the genius of who she was was her ability to connect with people so easily. That sense of connection is not easy for many of us to achieve in even just a few intimate relationships. Karyn modelled it to an inspiring degree.  

When I heard Dr. Purvis had passed away, my immediate thought was for her children and grandchildren and her closest colleagues at Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development. The loss for them is all the greater because of the depth of relationship they enjoyed with her. For those I have been privileged to meet, my belief is that Dr. Purvis has rubbed off on them to a considerable degree and left a mark that will not fade away. I know that, for me, though I had such a limited relationship with her, the impact was considerable. I am confident that Dr. Purvis’ legacy will continue on, but truly, for each person who had the privilege of meeting her, there is deep sadness in knowing that we will not see Karyn again until we join her in the presence of the Lord. Thank you, God, for this beautiful servant.

If you would like to know more about Dr. Purvis’ history and accomplishments, click here for some thoughts from the TCU Institute of Child Development.

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries for Focus on the Family Canada. She has worked as an adoption professional for 15 years and is also an adoptive mom.