On it's own, Eleanor means "shining light." Up until Lost Without You, we only knew her first name, and given her impact on the Denver Main Branch, and the fondness with which she was remembered, it's clear she was, indeed, a "shining light." But the manner---and purpose---in which she "shines" is revealed in her surname.
It wasn't until Higher Ground that Eleanor suddenly had a last name, and Van Teasdale is a very unusual, but nonetheless very meaningful, one. "Van" means "of" of "from" and Teasdale means "the valley of the river Tees," the Tees being a river in England. Taken together her surname is "of/from the valley of the river Tees."
Pair Eleanor's first and surname, and you have "Shining light of/from the valley of the the river"---we'll omit the geographic location only because it's the river reference more generally that's of the most importance to us. If you'll remember back to From The Heart, river references like Norman asking Oliver if he ever planned to "get on a raft with anyone again" and Shane and Oliver's dance and discussion to "The Water Is Wide," became a recurring theme throughout the 2016/17 season.
Even more interesting is the fact that Eleanor's surname contains "dale," practically piggybacking off of Dale Travers, which, as you'll remember, means "valley to cross." In a sense there was something set in motion in Lost Without You as a result of Eleanor's death in which Dale played a key, mostly unrealized, role (but one we've covered here on A&D previously). The embedded reference connects what was started in Lost Without You to the events of Higher Ground. The wilderness journeys of the POstables in the former, brought them out of "the valley" and to the edge "of the river" in the latter.
Before we discuss the manner in which Eleanor acted as a catalyst, there's one more interpretation of her name from which we can benefit spending some time. "Teasdale" also means "river dweller." Numerous biblical references associate water with life, two scriptures from the Gospel of John reference rivers specifically: "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:39) and "whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." (John 4:14) Not only was Eleanor a well of Life herself---she even had a Tree of Life letter opener on her desk---with her death also came an abundance of Life and renewal for the POstables.
Eleanor's life and legacy is actually the product of one of theatre and literature's greatest devices: the unseen character.
Developed almost by accident---as Eleanor was originally intended to be a person we saw in the series---she motivated [Shane, Oliver, Rita and Norman] to certain course[s] of action...advanc[ing] the plot, but [her physical] presence [was] unnecessary" to do so. We don't see Eleanor except as a photo, yet references to her carried enough attributes to create a detailed portrait of this largely hidden figure, whose death, and the circumstances surrounding it, accelerated the POstables' growth arc in ways the likes of which hadn't been seen in the series since the era of Supervisors circa Season 1. Not surprisingly, Eleanor was a Supervisor herself.
The "Last" Supervisor
But when the era ended in Dark of Night, the POstables were on their own for quite a significant stretch. While there is much to be said of the growth from The Treasure Box through Impossible Dream, the events of From The Heart and One In A Million, particularly for Shane and Oliver, made it abundantly clear that the stalemate in their relational growth would need something monumental introduced to overcome it. For Norman and Rita, their relationship needed to move forward, but with no immediate examples after which to model their courtship, the pair was forced to navigate their "raft" into uncharted waters in a way that would move them towards their eventual engagement.
It would take a Supervisor to "right the ship" in a sense, and who better to help the POstables cross into new territory than the head of Passports? Indeed, Eleanor's post was a critical, but easily overlooked, element of her character. She aided in getting the POstables back on track, and, particularly in Higher Ground, even directly supplied the materials to help them do so. She may have passed, but Eleanor Van Teasdale wasn't done issuing Passports.
Tomorrow we'll tackle the Passport process---the means and methods by which the POstables applied for, were processed, and were ultimately approved and issued their keys to success, all under Eleanor's unseen umbrella.