Queen's University

John Ursell was a unique gentleman

Letter to the Editor
Re: “Through a glass darkly”
Issue #4-2009, p. 15

I was saddened to learn of Dr. John Ursell's passing.

As it was a mandatory Commerce course at the time, I had the pleasure of being in Ursell's first-year Calculus class in the early 1980s. While I had performed reasonably well in Grade 13 Calculus, I was not prepared (nor were many of my classmates, for that matter) for the quantum leap in difficulty that a first-year university Calculus class would pose. I still remember the much-hated red-covered Calculus textbook that caused me no end of frustration. 

Fortunately, I had the great fortune to land in Prof. Ursell's class. As Rose Deshaw noted, Ursell had a unique character that somehow seemed to suit my stereotype (in a good way) of a "Professor." His courses were always entertaining—as much as calculus can be considered entertaining—and it was obvious that he cared a great deal about his students.

The final exam in this course made up the majority of the final grade, and tensions were high as final exams approached. Ursell, sensing the building apprehension over the final exam, went to the extraordinary step of offering an optional Sunday "exam prep" class session, and I still remember being pleasantly surprised when Ursell himself called me at home on the Saturday prior just to remind me of the optional special class. As I recall, while the class was meant only for Ursell's students, other first-year Calculus students "crashed" the event.

I managed—barely!—a passing grade in Calculus, but many who didn't have Ursell as their professor, and who I have no doubt had better math abilities than I did, were not so fortunate.

I am sure most students, even some 25 years after graduation, remember as I do a handful of their favourite professors. While the Ursell-taught course thankfully was my only mandated Calculus course, the memory of this unique gentleman is still quite strong for me. His passing is a loss for all future Queen's students, but especially those with first-year Calculus requirements.

Scott McCoy, Com’85
Peterborough, ON

Queen's Alumni Review, 2010 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2010 Issue #1
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