In Memoriam — Dr. Rick Dewar

A Tribute to an old friend and colleague:

Rick and I go way back to our college days. In fact, after he graduated we didn’t see each other much – partly because we were seldom in the same town and partly because our work was worlds apart. I actually hadn’t seen Rick in perhaps a dozen years – lost addresses and unanswered e-mails (doubtless due to errors in the possible address itself) led to a lessening in the continuing search. My bad

Rick passed away suddenly the other day. I only found out because, in one of the ironies of life, we both shared (at much different times) probably the most remarkable and competent Assistant one could ever hope for. This wonderful person (who will go nameless at the moment) was my E.A. when I was elected to the executive of the Students’ Union at the U of A; later she became his assistant (the exact title escapes me at the moment) when he was one of Canada’s top orthopedic surgeons. But its this UofA connection, that actually brought all of us together. However I am going to dwell now only on Rick’s importance in my life (hopefully I don’t have to write about the E.A. for many years!).

In February of 1966 Rick was elected to be the Medical Students representative on Students’ Council while I was elected to the position of Coordinator of Student Activities (now called Vice-President, Internal Affairs). Part of my campaign centred on the need for new approaches to the way we did things on campus, and after being elected I announced to the Council that one thing I thought we need to improve on was the way we oriented new students to the university – especially freshmen…I proposed we establish a program to be called Freshman Orientation Seminars (F.O.S.).

Most of the Council members thought it a bit out there – something that needed to be contemplated quite a bit more. However, not Rick, he immediately supported the idea saying that it was high time that something other than the frivolous Freshman Introduction Week (F.I.W.) as much fun as it was, be offered to high school grads so they could fully engage in the university life from the moment they came on campus. He stated his willingness to become my Associate Director and do whatever it might take to get this off the ground. While I am not going to go into all the details of the design, development and delivery of F.O.S. in the summer of 1966, I will say it was a great success. Moreover I will recount a few of the highlights wherein Rick’s presence was critical to that success.

First of all there was no money in the budget for such a program. Here Rick was very helpful as he argued that it should be considered a pilot project and therefore could qualify for some of the miscellaneous funds the Council always kept in the budget. After Council agreed to a small contribution, we took the same approach to the provincial government’s Department of Advanced Education. Now as you know, I can get quite energetic when promoting a good cause. Some even have suggested that I can be loud and edgy. Rick was just the opposite. As a result, in our meetings with the government, while I would introduce the subject in a most positive way, Rick would then quietly articulate all the good reasons, including assisting the mental health of the incoming students, that government should support it. After a couple of meetings, they agreed. All we needed then was the university itself to offer some assistance.

This is where some funny moments emerged and they too involved Rick.

The first really humourous occasion arose when, after being asked for funding, the university president invited Rick and I to a private dinner at the President’s House on campus (recently demolished). While excited we both worried: what if they serve peas with the meal? So we went to the SUB cafeteria, ordered a meal with extra peas and practiced trying to eat them without knocking them off the plate. After quite an extended session, we determined we were ready to go. That night, sure enough, the president’s wife, who personally made the meal that evening, served roast beet, mashed potatoes, some carrots and a generous helping of peas – neither of us knocked any on the floor!!

A sidebar to that experience: the president and his wife kept us engaged in conversation about our lives, our career aspirations, our thoughts about the province and its university. On and on they talked with us and when dessert came I looked at Rick in despair as we hadn’t once talked about F.O.S. and the needed funding. Rick looked back with that look that always said: just shut up and enjoy the meal; so I did. As we were finishing the meal (and thinking about leaving) the president suddenly said: Oh by the way, I’ve approved your request, go to the Finance Office in the morning and pick up your cheque! (Needless to say our drive home that evening was most joyous, and I’m glad Rick kept me from opening my mouth!)

Another humourous moment happened later in the spring. By this time we had enlisted the help of another campus leader, Cec Pretty (see earlier In Memoriam). We were over at his place one evening finalizing the summer experiment. Rick had driven over in his old Sunbeam Alpine which was a true roadster (rather than a typical sports car). Cec was thrilled to see it and started talking about his old classic Jaguar sedan. No matter how I tried to get them to focus on the meeting’s agenda, they were into a deep exploration of the value of old British automobiles. Finally I decided to go into the kitchen to help Cec’s wife prepare some snacks. It was only when we brought out the food that their conversation could be re-directed back to the purpose of that evening.

He helped me one more summer as we began to expand the program and then he graduated and went on to become a very brilliant and sought after surgeon. Our paths crossed infrequently from then on – a meal, a meeting on a city roadway, a time on a ski hill – but the memories around his assistance at launching a signature program at the UofA always were with me.

I could go on and on with similar stories about Rick, but I think you get the point. He was a special person and I am sorry he is gone. As has been said to me on more than one occasion, some people come into your life for a reason or a season. Rick came in for both – the reason: to help establish F.O.S., the season: to make my time as an undergraduate in education truly blessed. I wished I had tried harder to re-connect once I moved back to the Okanagan – I didn’t! But my image of Rick will always be of that quiet, thoughtful, reflective helping person who knew how to calm the waters so that my energetic and sometimes bombastic approaches never sidelined good ideas!

You were special, very special Rick.