“REAL CLASSY PEOPLE”
is one of a handful of Beck grads who waved goodbye in 1956 only to
return in 1961 as a teacher!
“I came into
teaching via the back door because I didn’t go to university with the
intention of teaching. As a matter of fact, I got a “D” in History in my
first year and had to write a supplemental exam. That qualified me and
by my second year of History, I knew I’d be teaching it.
“Although I did
have fond recollections of teachers at Beck, there wasn’t any one
particular person who influenced me.
“As a student, I
don’t suppose I noticed the school spirit. We seemed to take it for
granted. We were proud of the Glee Club, we were proud of the drama
presentations, we were proud of the athletic teams. Also the singing
auditoriums, because we were the only school that did it. The pride and
the spirit went across the board.
“The spirit was
there partly because you could get everybody into the auditorium at one
time, whereas at other schools (except for South) the population was so
large, you couldn’t. I think that has an adverse effect on school
spirit. You need to be able to get everybody together.
“I was one of the
very few people who ever sat in the singing auditorium but didn’t enjoy
it. I don’t particularly enjoy singing. I’ll listen to some choirs, but
I’d rather hear something instrumental. I think it comes from the fact
I’m not a good singer.
wife was supposed to be delivering a child at the hospital while he was
conducting the orchestra during one of the school shows. I was a student
usher at the time. I have a feeling it was a Gilbert and Sullivan
production. I can still see Carl in a white tie and shirt and those
intermission, somebody told him there was a phone call for him. I heard
afterward that the call was to tell him his son had died. Nevertheless,
he went on to do the second act and finished it.
“Carl could have
left, but he stayed. Nobody else could have done his part of the show.
If he left, they’d have had to cancel the performance. That was my first
exposure to ‘the show must go on’. I never forgot it.
had Carl for Math once at summer school and felt Carl was better than
the teachers he had at regular school. After an exam, I remember Carl
was giving back exam papers and saying: ‘I apologize for the stain on
some of your papers, but my child spilled some ginger ale on them as I
was marking them.’ Funny how Iittle things like that stayed with me.
“As a fifteen or
sixteen year old, I was kind of surprised there were so many women
teachers. I was very impressed having a woman like Mrs. Colwill. She was
so smart, AND she taught trigonometry! Like the women on our street, my
mother was a stay-at-home mother; yet at Beck women were teaching me.
I’d never come across women like that before.
“When I was walking
to school, Bert Bartley and I often converged at the corners of Egerton
and Dundas, then walked on to Beck together. I certainly got a lot of
exercise walking with him! I can’t remember anything we talked about.
Probably whatever was going on in class or at the school, things of that
“Usually, I was one
of the first kids in the class. Until that final bell rang, Mr. Langford
would address the boys by their first names. He called me Robert. As
soon as the class began and I’d put my hand up to answer a question,
he’d say: ‘Yes, Gladwell.’ It was a military style. I believe he called
the girls ‘Miss so-and-so’. I don’t think any other male teacher called
the girls ‘Miss’.
“Teachers were on
patrol in the cafeteria for several weeks running, Cap Pritchard, for
instance. I think Hal Digges did some too.
At noon hours, Mrs. Colwill was frequently out on patrol. She’d even go
across the street. There was a church, and students sometimes sat on its
steps. She’d go over there and chase them off, as it was private
property. Sometimes she even went over to the variety store.
“Of course, there
was a detention room. Harvey Stewart ran it. I don’t think Harv had too
many people in that room. Once they’d had him, they didn’t want to go
again. As a teacher, I don’t remember Harv ever telling a joke. He
didn’t smile any more as colleague than he did as a teacher. I
understand that outside of the school environment, he was slightly
different, but I never really met him on the outside. He was another
generation, an older generation.
“When Paul Cropp’s
first wife died, my mother was in the hospital. I met Paul coming out of
the hospital. I didn’t realize at the time either his wife had just died
or she died that night. I can still see him coming down the steps from
Victoria Hospital, and I’m going in.
“As a Key Clubber,
I went to Casaloma. I danced there for the first time. Of course, we had
square dances. I participated in those, but regular dancing and asking a
girl for a date, well, the first time was at Casaloma. That’s something
I haven’t forgotten.
“It was nice to be
associated with other students who were interested in helping people. I
liked to help out, primarily at the dances and at school shows,
ushering. I’ve always liked providing some sort of service to the
“As a teacher at
Beck, I became a Key Club staff advisor. Again, it was nice to be
associated with a group of nice young men.
“Like Mr. Langford,
Dennis Groat was one of the few male teachers I never called by his
first name when I became a teacher. It was always ‘Mr. Groat’. After he
had retired and I had taught for many years, I’d see him from time to
time, and he was still ‘Mr. Groat’.
“Except for Bonnie
and Wilda, I called the older teachers ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’. It was always
‘Mrs. Colwill’. I never called her Gladys. The same with Miss Durrant.
She was always ‘Miss Durrant’.
“I was quite
impressed by Geoff Milburn and the current events seminars. People from
embassies in Toronto and Ottawa came to talk about themes like Latin
America. There’d be a luncheon, and kids would come from other schools
in the city, and perhaps from schools outside the city like Tillsonburg.
Even today, not many teachers would go to that length to introduce
students to what’s going on in the outside world. Geoff’s seminars
provided some depth to news stories they might read about.
“The only room I
taught in at Beck - 303 -- used to be Mr. Herron’s. I liked the room, in
part because it had nice big windows and lots of natural light. They
were windows that you could open. Wonderful cabinets were along one wall
where Mr. Herron had kept his chemicals and equipment. I was able to put
a lot of books on those shelves. It created a nice environment. If
you’re teaching something like History or English, it’s nice to have a
selection of books around.
“There were very
few electrical outlets in these rooms. When I showed film strips and ran
the 26-millimetre projector, the outlet I used was on the opposite side
of the male staff room. If one of the staff had plugged in a kettle and
I plugged in the projector, a fuse would blow. This was in the sixties.
There weren’t a lot of films to go around, and there were no TVs at all
in classrooms. When you’ve got the kids all geared up to look at a film,
a blown fuse was very disappointing.
Churchill died in 1965, Nancy Margaret Lewis went over to the funeral. I
remember that quite clearly because she was on television, being
interviewed. Geoff Milburn gave the memorial address at the school.
“At Miss Dolan’s
memorial service, many of us who knew her were very disappointed.
Nowadays it’s quite common to have a number of people who knew the
person speak at a memorial service. The minister who spoke knew very
little about Miss Dolan, which was very unfortunate. It was just a
typical religious service. One of her closest friends, Barbara Graham,
would’ve done a much better job.
“I taught at South
Collegiate for one year, then I went to Beck for four years. My wife
--who was single at the time-- and I started teaching at Beck at the
same time. We had already met at university.
“In 1965, I
resigned from Beck and went to England that fall. When I came back in
‘66, I went into what you might call the publishing business. I didn’t
find that as interesting as I thought I would and came back to teaching
in ’67. I went to Wheable when it was a regular high school and spent
twelve years there. In ’79, I went to H. B. Beal. That’s where I ended
“In retirement, I
don’t do much, but I do belong to a Kiwanis club. We do fundraising
activities and projects throughout the year. I’ve started exercising.
I’ve been doing it about four years now, just to try and keep in shape.
“When I went to
Beck as a teacher, I was made to feel very welcome. Initially, I did
feel a little strange, of course, addressing them by their first names
and being in the staff cafeteria.
“Beck teachers were
real classy people. They were a different breed. That doesn’t mean they
were any better than the teachers of today, but they were different.
service and involvement with youth. How fortunate teaching won out over