When John Askew left teaching at age fifty-seven, he didn’t retire. He became a lawyer!

            “The superannuation is what’s called a ‘90’ factor,” John explained. “When your years of experience plus your age total ninety, you qualify for a pension. I gave up the principalship of Laurier Secondary School when I was fifty-seven and went to law school at Western for three years. Then I came out here and practiced law.

            “In B.C. at that time, we articled in a law firm and went to night classes. It wasn’t like it is in Ontario where it’s another year at Osgood.”

            Back in 1952 when John came to Beck, he taught History.

            “I followed Margaret Vrooman. My wife Dorothy was a Beck student under Margaret, so when I joined the Beck staff, I came in with all sorts of inside stories.

            “How did I come to teach History? Was I inspired by someone else? Yes, I suppose I was. Going back to St. Thomas Collegiate Institute where George L. Gray taught History and then became principal. He was a scholar and a very gentle person. I don’t mean a softie, I mean a Fred Langford type, a real gentleman.

            “When I went to Western, I had K.P.R. Nevill, the Dean of Arts who lectured in Ancient History; Professor Thomas for Canadian History and British History; Floyd Maine for Medieval; and Fred Landon. Fred was the librarian for the university then and also taught American History. I had a strong group of History professors.

            “At that time, the College of Education had just split English and History into two separate specialties. I was among the early History specialists.

            “In regard to the school spirit, first of all, there was a Beck tradition. Don’t misunderstand me, but Beck was in east London. Parents in that area sent their kids to Beck. If they made it through grade nine, fine. If they didn’t make it through grade nine, they went to Beal. We were distinctly not Central Collegiate.

            “Central Collegiate was north London, London’s elite, the entrepreneurial class. Beck was Kellogg’s, the railways and hard-working people. That gave a certain tone of seriousness to Beck. If you made it, fine, but if you didn’t, parents weren’t going to fool around.

            “Of course, there was a strong football enthusiasm. Terry Ferris was a Phys Ed teacher and coach in my day. He and I had been fellow students at Western. During my time at Beck, Roger Macaulay led the senior basketball team to a provincial championship.

            “Ah yes, the singing auditoriums. When my wife was a Beck student, her name was Dorothy Long. She graduated in 1935 so she knew Don Wright. She talked of the great lift the school got with Don Wright and the Glee Club and the orchestra.

            “When Beck did the Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Carl Chapman and I collaborated. Carl did all the music work, and I did the dramatic coaching and staging arrangements.

            “One of the interesting things was that the original Gilbert and Sullivan cast --The D’oyly Carte Opera Company-- were in Toronto at the time we were doing “H.M.S. Pinafore”. Carl and I went to Toronto to see this performance of the famous old London English cast so that we would do it right. That was quite an experience!

            “D’oyly Carte was a company in London, England. They played in the Savoy Theatre when Gilbert and Sullivan were actually alive and had an exclusive on their performances.

            “We wrote details down after the performance, but we also had to get the libretto from a law firm in New York, because it was still under copyright.

            “The book we got of the libretto had a lot of pencilled notes in the margin. These were the notes that were used by the earlier performers. We had both what we saw and these notes that we could try to figure out. They were written in theatrical terms, and we didn’t always know what we were looking at. It turned out to be quite useful.

            “The Beck staff had a family attitude. I’ll let you into a secret. The school operated the cafeteria. It wasn’t let out to some private company. At Christmastime, the surplus from the cafeteria account was used to fund a Beck family Christmas. The staff and all their children had a party in the cafeteria. When I first started, Cliff Johnson was principal, and the family Christmas tradition carried on with Tom Armstrong.

            “I don’t know how far the tradition continued, but we had a nice turkey dinner, boxes of chocolates from McCormick’s, skits and a Santa Claus for the children. At that point, my wife and I had three young children, and those parties were a highlight.

            “Fred Langford married Ottes Brandon, and she was a sorority sister of my wife. Fred had taught my wife Dorothy, so we became close friends. We lived out off Riverside Drive, and Fred and Ottes lived on Riverside.

            “Also, we knew the Dewdneys. Selwyn did the murals in the auditorium. Selwyn’s eldest son was in my History class. I bought a painting from Selwyn on the basis of monthly payments, which I gave to Donner to take home to his dad.

            “The academic and athletic programs co-operated and didn’t compete or cause stress between each other. You remember Pop Adamson who used to teach Math? He always told the kids on the teams: ‘Be sure to put your rubbers on!’ That was his standard joke. He was concerned not only about their Math, because he kept them in after school and had them work on the blackboards to catch up with what they were doing, but he was also concerned about their welfare.”

            In 1960, John went from Beck to the central office as Director of Guidance for a year. In January 1961, he became vice-principal at South. From there he went to Oakridge as principal, then eventually back to the Board office to organize Sir Wilfred Laurier Secondary School.

            “At that time we had the luxury that if you were tapped for being the principal at a new school, you had a whole year to plan and order materials and select staff. You had the opportunity to look for new ideas and move around the country to look at schools and so on.

            “After I left teaching and went into law, I practiced almost ten years in Duncan on Vancouver Island. Part of my attraction here was that my second daughter was a lawyer and had moved to B.C. She was my initial contact. Later on, she and I were partners here in Duncan for a time.

            “It was good. I’m sort of a linear thinker, and she could think sideways as well as linear. The two of us made for a good combination. She went on to become a top labour lawyer in Vancouver.

            “Since I retired from law, I haven’t done much of anything. My wife and I garden, we carpenter, we travel… We’re getting to the point now where travel is a bit difficult. Long air flights are more than exhausting and not what we want to do. We do a lot of reading, listening to music.

            “One or two more funny little Beck stories. George Ramage was the vice-principal. If you were absent, you had to go to George’s office and get a ‘admit’, which required having a note to explain your absence. On one occasion, there was a family in the Hamilton Road area that came to Beck for several generations. When one of the boys was absent, he came to George with a note saying: ‘The dawn of tomorrow came out today, and (my son) had to deliver the papers.’

            “One time George also got a note that said: ‘Stomach flu’ only it was spelled ‘stummick flew’.

            “I have a lot of fond memories of Beck and am looking forward to the Reunion.”

To paraphrase the last line in "The Mikado", 'Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory, John Askew!'





Copyright Carol Lowe   August 4, 2004


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