Remembering Harry Sayers…

Tom Parkin
Tom Parkin

Revelstoke Secondary School’s new principal, Greg Kenyon, starts work this week. He comes to us from Kerrobert, Saskatchewan, where he also served in that capacity. His arrival in the Stoke reminds me of one of my own RSS teachers who went on to become a principal, and then a district superintendent: Harry Sayers. Surfing the Internet, I encountered Mr. Sayers’ name on an elementary school in Abbotsford. Could this be the same man? After contacting that school district, I discovered that indeed, it was. With their help, I’ve assembled this small remembrance.

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 Harry Sayers was born in Edinburgh on 11 August 1928. He was one of four siblings, all of whom, with the exception of himself, remained in the UK. Both the Sayers’ parents instilled in their children the value of education and of life-long learning.

Mr. Sayers (pardon my formality…  he trained us into it) graduated from school in 1946. He then completed two years in the army. Following his military service, he attended the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an MA degree in 1951. After that he attended Moray House College from 1951-52, obtaining a teaching certificate with a mathematics specialty. He taught math in Scotland for four years before becoming interested in working overseas.

Former RSS Principal Harry Sayers as he appeared in the RSS 1965-66 yearbook.
Former RSS Principal Harry Sayers as he appeared in the RSS 1965-66 yearbook.

Intrigued by the notion of teaching in Canada, Mr. Sayers contacted officials who would be able to assist him in securing an assignment in this country. By 1956, he was teaching at Revelstoke Secondary. RSS capitalized on his abilities, and before long his assignment included a variety of subjects.

Former student Gordon Jones, recalls our first day in Sayers’ class, which would have been about 1967. Our new teacher introduced himself and outlined the rules of engagement expected in his room. Some were quaintly old-fashioned, in our view. This included the ritual of him addressing us at the beginning of each lesson: “Good morning, class,” he would say in his gentle brogue. We were to answer in unison,            “Good morning, Mr. Sayers.” Which was fine, but Gordon and I covertly took his instructions to the nth degree: we answered in Scots accents ourselves. Harry cocked an ear, and a smile crooked the corners of his mouth. He never said a thing, and there was no benefit to ferret out we brogue-speakers. I doubt other kids even noticed our small joke. That incident was typical of Sayers’ humour and wisdom in dealing with adolescent minds—he could discipline without being a heavy. Two other incidents come to mind which also illustrate this:

On one occasion, a male member of the species entered our classroom, carefully combing his coiffure; an obvious poseur seeking female admirers. Sayers let the adolescent take his seat before leaping forward, furiously pumping his path with an imaginary insecticide sprayer, and stamping the floor free of scurrying vermin. Everyone laughed, and the teacher made his point without saying a word.

On another occasion, J, the class clown, came in the front door right at bell-time, with the rest of the class already seated. Mr. Sayers stood at the board, arms folded, observing him march across the room, arms swinging, chanting Onward Christian Soldiers. The class held its breath until the rebel without a cause took his seat and only then Sayers riposted: “Sounds more like heathen rabble to me.”

Sayers expected courtesy and effort from his classes. I think aforesaid kid must have sorely tried his patience. The closest I saw Sayers to losing it was when J put his head down on his arms and fell asleep in class. He thought he was concealed behind the student in front, but Sayers noticed nevertheless. Picking up his long wooden pointer, he tapped the blackboard for dramatic emphasis, then strolled the aisle toward the unsuspecting snoozer, explaining Pythagoras’ Theorem without a pause. All eyes followed. No one dared prod the pupil. Sayers raised what might have been a cane during his own school days, and brought the stick down across the desk with a smash which splintered it. No one was touched, but attention and discipline were again established.

At the end of the 1968 school year, Sayers moved to Cranbrook, BC, joining there former RSS teachers Bill Gibbon, Ian Carley, and the latter’s wife, Joan Carley. From 1970-73, Sayers served there as the principal of three different elementary schools. Then he was appointed superintendent of School District #5 (Cranbrook). He remained until 1978, when he accepted the position of superintendent for District #34 (Abbotsford). He kept that position until retiring in 1988. He was recognized for successfully steering the district through the extremely difficult period of 1981-82 when provincial funding rollbacks were exacerbated by extreme student growth.

Probably the most bizarre problem Sayers had to handle during his tenure made provincial news in 1985. Do you recall the teacher husband who submitted a nude photo of his teacher wife to a skin magazine? No doubt that issue sold quickly and soon had value on the boys’ black market! The couple were on Sayers’ staff, and both were suspended without pay for six weeks. Sayers stated being shocked by the image, but I imagine he was also mystified. Their unprofessional behaviour was likely incomprehensible to him, but he knew how to deal with it.

After retirement, Harry Sayers served his community by acting as president of the Abbotsford Rotary Club and being a member of the BC Summer Games committee. He continued to serve until his death in March 1996. A $500 memorial scholarship was established in his name. Mr. Sayers’ integrity and the esteem in which he was held are evidenced by the 1992 naming of a school in his honour. I’m honoured to have been your student, Harry. Thank you.

Tom Parkin is an RSS grad of 1969, and writes for The Revelstoke Current on the last Saturday of each month.