In memoriam: Wearring remembered as a towering example for all
By Don Morrow
March 14, 2013
“But yet I know, where'er I go,/That there hath past away a glory from the earth” (Wordsworth)
George Wearring (1928-2013) was a Western professor who taught in the Department of Physical, Health and Recreation Education (now, after several iterations, the School of Kinesiology) from 1962-90. I want to reflect upon the man as I knew him, first as one of my undergraduate teachers and later as my colleague and friend.
He was a man of compelling stature, literally and figuratively. At 6 feet, 11 inches tall and always bearded – of ‘sable silver’d’ – George exuded presence in any room. A talented football and basketball player, he participated as a member of the Canadian basketball team in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. I asked him once what he remembered about his experience at those Games and the ego-less response that lit up his face was his expressed awe of watching the Czech distance runner Emil Zatopek dominate in the 5,000- and 10,000-metre events and then win gold, as well, in the marathon.
And yet George’s height was never used by him to dominate anyone; as one of my undergraduate classmates, a female gymnast just over 5 feet in height remarked, “I always felt like George was speaking with me, at my level, never down to me and for my height.”
And her observation speaks volumes about how he treated everyone.
George was a gentleman and a gentle man. God-fearing in the most complete sense of that attribute, he was teacher above all else; he cared deeply for his students and was as unorthodox in his teaching methods as he was in his physical build. He would role-play, put on a persona for an entire class and he was a veritable question-machine in his efforts to get his students to think critically.
“What’s your model of human-kind?” and “Where in the health are we going?” were two of his most common question-refrains.
Indeed his academic field was health and he was passionate about every aspect of that concept, from exposing refined sugar as “white death” to simply informing us how to cut a ‘V’ in the center of toe nails to prevent or heal ingrown nails to waxing passionately about the devastation of mental illness.
Early in my career as a professor, I had the privilege of team-teaching a first-year course with George and I think I learned more about how to be with, and care about, students from him than from anyone else.
And I remember he had one crooked finger, if memory serves, on his left hand, and he often clapped his hands to reinforce an exclamatory remark, normally accompanied by a “Holy Mackerel” verbal exclamation (his strongest language, in my experience of George) and I always made up that the bent digit was the result of a basketball or football injury, a badge of honour from his athletic days. In the same bodily vein, pun intended, I recall as well that he managed to have quadruple by-pass heart surgery done as a preventive tactic – imagine doing so today – respecting the anatomical likelihood of a cardiovascular event later in life.
George was someone I trusted, everyone trusted; you could go to George with your personal or professional problems and always find a devout and compassionate listener and many of us have done so.
Astutely, in my view, he never advised me as a friend or colleague; instead he respected me and sought to work with me to find a way to resolve whatever it was that was at issue. Often, George would merely leave you with something to ponder, a Georgian-precept like, “not to decide is to decide” or “justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.” I believe he abhorred hypocrisy and I believe he loved integrity.
Just before he made his decision to retire a few years before ‘normal’ retirement age (the same age I am now), I remember sitting beside him in the Thames Hall locker room and he said something I still find fascinating. He opined that, “you can’t grow old gracefully.” The irony to me was that my experience of George was he exuded grace all of his life, to everyone he encountered.
I will miss, and always remember, his penetrating eyes, his soft and warm, ever-present smile, and the opportunity to engage with him about anything. And so will many, many others. There has indeed passed away a singular, graceful glory from this earth.
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By J. Stanley Hill
George was born and raised in London, Ont., where he attended Central Secondary School and The University of Western Ontario. He excelled in basketball and football at both institutions. He, together with Mike Yuhasz and Paul Thomas, were the first graduating class in Physical Education at Western. Such was his prowess on the basketball court that he was a member of the Canadian Olympic Basketball team at the Helsinski Games in 1952. He was inducted into the ‘W’ Club Hall of Fame in 1989.
George influenced many young lives teaching at Leaside High School in Toronto and at the University of Saskatchewan before arriving at Western in the early 1960s. His unique approach to the teaching of ‘health’ challenged students to support their views with evidence from research. This was quite a change for most of his students from that era.
He was a man of faith and he and his wife, Marilyn, were closely associated with the congregation at New St. James Presbyterian Church here in London. He was the driving force behind the development of a seniors program at the church on Monday mornings. It was called the Ox-Well program as the church is located at the intersection of Oxford and Wellington streets.
On retirement, he volunteered many hours each week at the Parkwood Hospital Palliative Care Centre and at the Sisters of St. Joseph Soup Kitchen on Dundas Street.
George was a Christian gentleman; he will be sorely missed.
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Professor emeritus David Ankney, 66, died Thursday, Feb. 28 in Port Rowan. He is survived by his wife, Sandra Johnson. Ankney had 34 years of service with Western’s Department of Biology at the time of his retirement in January 2004.
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