Upon graduating from the University of Toronto, one of Nancy Margaret Lewis’ earlier jobs was in the steno pool at the Bank of Commerce in downtown Toronto.

            “I was a junior secretary to one or two of the bank’s junior executives. One day, this ‘hot shot’ Harry Malmqist (who was doing personnel assessments) perched on the corner of my desk and asked: ‘Have you ever thought of being a teacher?’ When I said no, he replied he thought I’d make a good one.

            “Within a day or two I’d handed in my resignation, made an application for O.C.E. and that was that. It was just the time. Our lives revolve on such tiny fulcrums sometimes and that was the time and place for me.

            “If Harry Malmqist hadn’t made that comment to me, I don’t know what direction my life would have taken, but I doubt I’d have gone into teaching.

            “There were two places I thought I’d like to teach. One was Kitchener, the other was London. I’d heard good things about both places. Those were the days when lots and lots of jobs were open. You’d buy a special edition of the Globe, and there’d be pages of job offers for teachers.

            “The interviews I attended were held at the Park Plaza Hotel. I got myself togged up pretty smartly, I thought, and looking very professional. Me in my gray dress with a little red pillbox hat, red shoes and gloves. Something I would never, NEVER do now!

            “There were several principals at the hotel, all from different schools. You just went in, had your interview and that was that. Mr. Armstrong called me, if not that same night, then the very next one. There was no time lapse at all. It was just a done deal.

            “My interview with Mr. Armstrong was extremely pleasant. He was a prince of a person. I think he had a great deal to do with the general tone of Beck. He was a gentleman, and I had tremendous respect for Mr. Armstrong. I never called him Tom. I wouldn’t have thought of it, any more than I’d have called Mr. Langford ‘Fred’!

            “I found both men compassionate. They were thoroughly fine, kind men.

            “When I came to Beck, I succeeded Mary Cameron and moved into her classroom. Before very long, I copied Mr. Langford and put a rocking chair in my room. It just seemed like the absolutely right thing to have in a classroom. I had that rocking chair until it became a rickety old thing and ended up in a nursery at L.G.T.

            “Most kids would remember that rocking chair. I very seldom sat in it while teaching, but I did occasionally, perhaps, when I was reading something. The chair was just there for anybody to use. I think it presented a sort of ambiance, a feeling about the room.

            “On occasion, it was borrowed when they were having a shop display. Not that it was made in the shop, but they just seemed to want it.

            “Some times after school, students would come in with a question, such as explaining the difference between a gerund and an infinitive or ‘What was Lady Macbeth really thinking when she said that’? I knew pretty well that wasn’t the main reason for coming in, and I rocked kids on my lap.

            “By the time I left Beck, the rocking chair had pretty well collapsed. One of my going away gifts was another rocking chair with the Beck crest painted on the back! From where I’m sitting as we talk, I can take about six steps and go and sit in it.

            “At first, I didn’t take it into my Lucas classroom. I was all set to, but three or four girls at Lucas took me aside and very gently and graciously suggested that I not rush it.

            “Beck’s singing auditoriums were well known all over the place. We had visitors coming in just to see what it was about. We used to exchange visits with a secondary school in Ottawa. I think Carl Chapman had the connection there. Our singers and band would go down there, and theirs would come up here.

            “One time a visiting band was playing the oldies but the goodies, Glenn Miller type of music. I could NOT keep my cotton pickin’ feet quiet! I was practically dancing out in the aisle, when a visitor --maybe from the band?-- came down, and we danced together! He was feeling exactly the same way, and we just tootled up and down the aisle together.

            “Winston Churchill died in January 1965. I was living with Mrs. Adam. When I came home from work, Mrs. Adam was knitting. I told her how much I’d like to attend Churchill’s memorial service. Without dropping a stitch, she said: ‘Why don’t you go then, dear?’

            “The next morning, I marched into Carl’s office and told him my plan. He nearly fell off his chair but agreed to let me go. I had traveller’s cheques left over from the previous summer’s trip to London, England and called the hotel where I had stayed.

            “The next day, a Friday, I flew to England and arrived at my London hotel before my room was made! I spent a day walking around and went to where the funeral barge was tied up. The next morning, I got up real early and joined another zillion mourners. All these people were friendly, exhilarating and very civilized. We stood and watched the entire funeral procession and also saw Lord Louis Mountbatten in his position of honor.

            “When I returned two days later, I was on the same flight as Canada's Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson. Of course, he was in first class, and I wasn’t!

            “Gladys Colwill and I had a lovely trip together. It must have been in 1970. We went over to Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps with a group. My first overseas trip was in 1959 with Edna Durrant.

            “Mr. Langford flew a plane in the First World War. He said it was possible to fly upside down and not realize you were doing it. I don’t remember how, but I can remember his telling us that.

            “I remember being in Mr. Armstrong’s office when occasionally he’d reminisce about his war experiences. I believe he also flew in the First World War. Once in a while when he was in one of his sharing moods, I’d sit in his office and listen. I was always interested in what he said.

            “I think when Mr. Armstrong retired, among his gifts was a kitten.

            “We gave Wilda Graber a folding bike. She put it together and rode it down the aisle. That was all part of the Beck family. That’s the way we did it. No stress. No strain. There was such a tremendous amount of affection in that school. Affection, respect and in some cases, love. Respect came first, and the love came later.

            “When Mr. Langford, as head of the English department, would come in and sit in on class, he gave me very helpful suggestions. I found his suggestions uniformly positive and very, very encouraging. I must admit, I was always under some stress when I knew I was being ‘inspected’, but I think that’s natural.

            “Dennis Groat had a very quiet voice. He may have had throat problems. He used a mike in his room. He was a gentle, gentle man.

            “I remember Bert Bartley and Geoff Milburn hollering from one end of the hall to the other. They could both be heard at great distances.

            “My overall memory of George Ramage is that he was a very pleasant person.

            “Kids were genuinely scared of Harvey Stewart and with good reason. He could pick up a person sitting in a chair and heave the chair unceremoniously. One time at a Beck show with strictly local, homegrown Beck talent, some of Harvey’s Phys Ed boys covered their bodies with gold paint. They struck ‘Grecian’ poses and would hold their position and freeze in it.

            “Paul Cropp was the world’s worst ‘punner’. Our classroom doors, 310 and 311, opened toward each other. Between classes, Paul would start punning. I just leaned over and groaned at some of his ‘Croppian’ puns. He really was exceptional at quoting Shakespeare. No question about that. When his first wife died, he had a lonely time until his second wife came into the picture. He was a good father to his children. His daughter used to pack his lunch for him, and when she did, she’d slip a little note in for her dad, which touched him very much.

            “In the late fifties, I was supervising for one of the grade thirteen departmental exams and needed an immediate ‘relief’ break. We seemed to be a little short of teachers. They were spread all over the school. When I looked out the door, Cap Rainsbury was quietly pushing a broom down the hall. I motioned to him, and explained my problem. He came in the room and stood quietly. I don’t suppose anyone realized about the changing of the guard. I went, came back and felt great.

            “Had anybody known about it, I’m sure it would’ve caused a great ‘kerfuffle’; however, back then, you just did things and didn’t think about it. You didn’t have to fill everything out in triplicate.

            “I remember standing out in the most foul weather cheering our teams on. You just did. When the Glee Club was going off to another city, I got up in the middle of the night and waved the kids off in the dark, along with a few parents. I did the same at Lucas.

            “The Beck parents were supportive too. They showed up in the morning and cooked breakfast when these kids went places. It wasn’t just the teachers who were supportive. It was the parents too. The whole connection was very strong.

            “I started at Beck in 1956 and went through to 1981. Beck was my first school and would’ve been my ONLY school if it hadn’t shut down. I spent my final four years at Lucas.

            “I LOVE Beck. I’ll always love Beck. I went in to teaching with a lot of stars in my eyes, a LOT of stars, and I still had quite a number of stars in my eyes when I retired. That says it all.”

            A natural raconteur, full of warmth, spontaneity and the joy of living, thus explaining her devoted legions of admirers!

            ***For those who do not know, Nan has been very happily married to Gordon Linton for the past eight years. They live near Ilderton. She is looking forward to seeing everyone at the Reunion.***




Copyright Carol Lowe   August 13, 2004


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