Looking back a half-century
The Review interviewed three randomly selected alumni from the Class of 1965 – David Whiting, Sc'65, Joanne Bascom. Arts'65, and Robert Foster, Arts'65 – to ask them about their student experiences. What we learned is that these alumni have a lot more in common with today's students than you might ever have imagined.
It's all about people and community
It was on a sunlit September day – 50 years ago this year – that David Whiting, Sc’65, arrived on campus for the first time. Queen’s was a smaller, cozier place back then. Full-time enrolment in the fall of 1961 was only about 4,500 students, roughly a quarter of what it is today, and the campus was decidedly more compact, less built-up. There was no PhysEd Centre. No Victoria Hall. No Stauffer Library. No Stirling Hall. And no West Campus.
However, at least one aspect of life at Queen’s remains constant.
It’s what drew Whiting here initially.
It’s what fostered his love for this University, and it’s one of the things that continues to fuel his loyalty. “I like the strong feeling of community at Queen’s. It’s central to what this place has always been about,” he says.
Whiting got a sense of that before he ever set foot on campus. He earned his high school diploma at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ontario – where he was a classmate of current Queen’s Chancellor David Dodge, Arts’65. “Padre Laverty was a good friend of our headmaster, and when the Padre came to visit he recruited David Dodge, myself and three other students to come to Queen’s,” Whiting recalls. “I’d never been to Kingston, and I knew almost nothing about the city, but I came anyway.”
With his boarding school background, the transition to campus life and life in Leonard Hall residence was relatively easy. What took some getting use to was the newfound sense of freedom. “Life at Ridley was regimented and structured,” says Whiting. “As a first-year Engineering student at Queen’s, I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was free to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. With 33 hours of classes and labs each week, we were kept busy. Even so, life at Queen’s was still a huge change for me.”
Whiting worked hard, earned solid marks, and enjoyed his undergrad years. In good measure that was because of the people he met – fellow students, faculty, and staff – and the strong feeling of community on campus. He made several lifelong friends here.
Whiting also got involved with the Engineering Society, serving as President in his senior year (1964-65) and sitting as a member of the AMS executive at a time when this campus, like university campuses across North America, was roiling with political unrest. “I wasn’t interested in party politics, but my experiences in student government helped to clarify my thinking and decide on a career path,” he says. “I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, to have my own business.”
And that’s exactly what he did. After earning an MBA at Western in 1967, Whiting went on to found Merlan Scientific Ltd., a successful Mississauga-based international developer and distributor of science, technology and engineering products for the educational sector.
Despite his busy career and personal life, Whiting has always made time for Queen’s, and he continues to do so. He has volunteered his time and expertise to the alumni association, acting as QUAA President in 1993-94. He has also been a member of University Council, and is a member of the advisory board of PARTEQ Innovations, the University’s technology transfer arm. He also recently completed the maximum term of 12 years on the Board of Trustees.
Whiting’s dedication to Queen’s hasn’t gone unrecognized. He was honoured with a Distinguished Service Award citation in 1999, a John Orr Award in 2006, and numerous other citations. “My wife Donna [(Gibney) Arts’65], and I have two daughters who’ve attended Queen’s – Natalie Whiting, Artsci’92, Meds’96, and Andrea Whiting, Artsci’96, MIR’96, – and because of them and because of my on-going involvement with the University, I think I still have a pretty good sense of what campus life is all about, “ he says. “The University has grown fourfold since my own student days. It’s more rigorous academically now, but the University’s core values haven’t changed. Queen’s is still relatively small. It’s still a residential school with a great sense of community.
“Students place a lot more emphasis nowadays on getting a good education in order to find a good job. However, I still believe that if students take full advantage of the education they receive at Queen’s, they’ll do well in their careers.”
A balance of work and play
Joanne Bascom had two very good reasons for coming to Queen’s. “For one, my father, Joseph Bascom was a grad; he was a member of Arts’38,” says Bascom. Then, she adds with a laugh, “The other reason I came to Queen’s was that it was far enough away from my home in Chatham, Ontario, but not so far away that I couldn’t go home to visit if I wanted to.”
Like some members of the Class of 1965, Bascom arrived on campus not in the fall of 1961, but rather a year later. She then did a three-year general BA, something that was far more common back then than it is nowadays.She remembers Orientation Week for female students very well. Says Bascom, “There was no hazing, apart from us being tied together with a big rope and marched down Princess Street. Other than that, we socialized, took part in some fun games, met our professors, and chose our courses.”
Bascom lived in Chown Hall during first year, and in the time-honoured tradition of Queen’s students, she and three of her best friends from residence rented an apartment on Edgehill Street in second year.
Bascom also got involved in the Levana Society, the official association of female students from 1888 to 1967.
“I was Vice-President and an organizer of Orientation Week activities in my second year,” she says.
Queen’s was a much smaller, gentler place at the time. The Dean of Women, Beatrice Bryce, said grace in Latin before dinner each evening at Ban Righ cafeteria.
“She also hosted Sunday teas for small groups of girls from the residences,” recalls Bascom.
Sunday teas and Latin blessings before meals have disappeared. So, too, has the Levana Society ritual of candle-lighting, which used to take place annually. Each female student in her senior year mentored a first-year student, and in a Grant Hall ceremony the graduating student would hold out a lighted candle to her charge, who would use it to light her candle. The passing of the flame represented a symbolic passing-on of the tradition of one generation of students helping and nurturing the generation of students who follow.
A myth grew up that the candle lighting had to do with predicting who the female participants would marry. “That was a mild joke,” says Bascom. “The ceremony had nothing to do with that. It was all about the community of woman at Queen’s. I think it’s a shame that the candle lighting ceremony is no longer held.”
Bascom enjoyed her three years at Queen’s. She played varsity basketball, was active in the Levana Society, and led a busy social life. Bascom confides that she only really applied herself to her studies in her final year, when she decided that she wanted to be a teacher.
“The job market was wide open when I graduated in 1965,” says Bascom. “Those were very different times for women and for young grads of both sexes.”
Keen to see the world, in 1965 Bascom signed on with an organization called Canadian University Service Overseas and was posted to the West African nation of Ghana, where she taught English for two years. In 1967 she returned home to Canada and embarked on a career as a high school teacher and principal in St. Catherines, Ontario.
Now retired, Bascom lives in Guelph. She still has fond memories of Queen’s and of her student years, now almost 50 years in the past. Her twin nieces Jennifer Bascom, Artsci’95, and Janel Bascom, Artsci’97, attended Queen’s, as did her sister-in-law Marion (Rydman) Bascom, NSc’67.
Joanne Bascom returned to campus for her 40th reunion in 2005, and when she did she got together with the three women who were once her housemates.
“It was great fun to see them again. We laughed and shared a lot of good memories,” says Bascom.
“For me, the social aspects of student life at Queen’s were as important as those of the intellectual life.”
Learning think is what it's all about
Although 50 years have passed, Robert Foster, Arts’65, MA’73, still has vivid memories of his first-year student experiences at Queen’s. The Vancouver native arrived on campus in early September 1962 after traveling across Canada by rail. When his train pulled into Kingston, it did so at the now-defunct downtown station in front of City Hall.
“I arrived in town not knowing a single soul,” says Foster. That all changed quickly.
When he settled in at Morris Hall he immersed himself in campus life, both academically and in terms of extracurricular activities.
“I was interested in politics, and there were a lot of big issues to be concerned about at the time. The Vietnam War was one, and I remember taking part in demonstrations. Later I was able to play a role in repairing [the resulting strained] relations between Queen’s and the Royal Military College,” says Foster. “In those days, I was slightly to the left politically. In retrospect, I guess you’d say I was a ‘pink Tory.’ It was all pretty innocent stuff.”
Maybe so. But it whetted Foster’s appetite for political activism. In his senior year, 1964-65, he won election as AMS President. Notes Foster, “I majored in Economics, and I’ll never forget that when I was elected AMS President, the head of the Economics Department, Dr. Clifford Curtis [LLD’73], called me in for a talk. ‘Congratulations on your election, Mr. Foster,’ he said. ‘We think you’ve taken on too much, and you’re going to fail.’”
Happily, that dire prediction proved false. Foster applied himself, graduated, and went on to a productive, successful career.
For a time during his student years, he’d aspired to a career with the federal civil service; he even spent the summer of 1964 working for the Justice Department in Ottawa. However, after earning his BA, he changed tack and went into business. Foster was the chief economist for Dominion Securities in 1966, before changing gears to become a forest products industry analyst. He made the latter career move because he knew it would provide him with opportunities to return to BC to visit family.
These days, he is President and CEO of Capital Canada Limited, a Toronto-based boutique investment banking firm. Oh, yes, and lest you think gave up on politics: he has served stints as chair of the PC Canada Fund and of the PC Ontario Fund.
Foster has also maintained his Tricolour ties. He and his wife Julia have four children. His two sons – Robert Foster, Artsci’95, and Simon, Artsci’97 – graduated from Queen’s, and his daughter Jessica, studied here for two years here before transferring to McGill.
Foster says he fears today’s students may be too focused on studying what they think will help them find a job. “The purpose of a university education should be to learn to think,” he says. “I think students are wise to pick a program they’re interested in and will benefit from, and then to put their heads down and work hard.”
"If they do that," he adds, "with their Queen’s degrees they’ll succeed on whatever career paths they decide to follow."