In Memoriam — Cec Pretty

Yes…we have lost another icon from the halcyon days of the mid/late sixties at the University of Alberta (UofA). Cec Pretty passed away in his sleep yesterday.
Our erstwhile musician extraordinaire from our UofA days, Cec was also the Class Historian in 1966 the year I received my B.A. His essay or story was brilliantly written. I would like now to quote just one small part from that story:
We have lived a good life and ,earned much – socially, academically, and spiritually. The spectrum of our participant in the diverse activities of our campus should now have fused into a light of mature wisdom penetrating into our personal depths of mind and soul to reveal that we have critically discerned those elements of truth, of quality and, of deepest value to ourselves and our fellow members in a free society…

He was leader of the UofA Marching Band along with countless other musical ensembles including assembling back ups for some of the artists who appeared at Students’ Union sponsored events at the Jubilee Auditorium, including Glenn Yarbrough. I’m sure he could play most instruments and he certainly knew how to stage presentations and productions. When we opened the new Students’ Union Building in 1967, Cec became the Director of the SUB Theatre. He made sure that it was a success from the beginning.

But he had other organizational talents including helping me launch the Freshman Orientation Seminars (FOS) program along with Rich Dewar the med student on Council at the time. And those who knew him also enjoyed another side: he was a story teller, par excellence.

He also moved out to one of the Beaches outside of Edmonton and became mayor of that small community. Then he went to the USA to pursue a doctorate. He never quite finished that particular journey but he became a very successful musical leader in the Greater Chicago area. He was an organist at several churches and led a variety of musical ventures.

For a while I kind of lost track of Cec, because I too went to the USA for graduate studies – and then came back to the UofA to complete my doctorate. And as I got into consulting, my world went in a different direction. However after closing my consulting firm and creating a professional corporation, I did locate him again. We agreed to meet at O’Hare Airport on one of my trips through to a professional association AGM/Conference. I had other team members coming in later on separate flights so he came by in his pick-up truck and we went to breakfast. It was a great time – several hours actually, recounting younger days and getting caught up on our professional worlds. It was there that I discovered a more spiritual Cec – he was always reflective, but by this point he was also thinking more deeply about religious matters. We determined that there was more to the conversation and we should do it again.

The next time was to be on one of my cross-country drives. However, as soon as I got into the USA, he phoned me to tell me that he had just be taken to the hospital and would not likely be out until early the following week. While I was not about to turn around, I knew that I couldn’t see him then – so we postponed to another journey. It happened when I was driving the other way. I managed to land into Chicago in the late afternoon and we had a long visit in his home. We talked more about life going forward and there was a sense of urgency with Cec. He felt both of us had more things to do and we discussed what all these options might be. He also showed me all the instruments he had been collecting and restoring so he could teach kids on a volunteer basis at a nearby youth centre. It was exciting just to imagine him inspiring young people to not simply love music but to take up an instrument to express that love more uniquely. Before I left he also showed me some model vehicles he had put together. He asked me to pick one which I did – unfortunately there was one piece missing. He said he would fix it and send it to me…that never happened although in a couple of phone calls he said he would get at it. I then began to sense that Cec was slipping a bit. He had energy but there was a slight loss of focus.

More recently his phone was unanswered and then seemed dead. The last time I was in Chicago I couldn’t reach him at all. Luckily I managed to get in contact with his daughter and she would give me periodic updates. As he reached the eighties, he had moved from his home to a place where he could receive regular care – I was glad about that because of his increasing dementia. I wanted to know that he was being cared for since his children lived far away (although they visited whenever they could as his son was there at his passing). In the end, he slipped away quickly and painlessly, a quiet end to a life of giving, of talented sharing, of leadership, of deep friendships and throughout it all much laughter & music. I know that my life was made better, by Cec being in it…

Thank you Cec,