Wednesday, October 18, 2006

David Beatty, me and what do in life (2)

By Rick Maclean, June 23, 2006
Last time: Like graduating students everywhere, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I finished high school. I headed to Mount Allison University in Sackville to study chemistry, a leg on the trip to becoming a doctor. Two years later I switched to history, where I met a teacher who became a life-long friend, Dave Beatty. Recently, as I do every year, I stopped by his summer home to say hello. A five-minute visit turned into two hours. We ended up talking about how we became teachers. Neither of us had planned it. This is the second of three parts.

Dave Beatty was a runner. We started running together while I was a student. He wasn’t fast, but he could go for an hour and talk about foreign policy at the same time. Free lectures on the run.
There’d be no running this visit. He’s 73. He has a bit of limp and stoop, but there’s a bicycle in the corner with a well-used water bottle attached. His hair is a bit thinner and whiter, but just as unruly as ever. His hand serves a comb and by evening the hair is where it is.
Instead of running, we sat in the kitchen of the renovated home he’d bought years ago when it was a junk heap with a rock basement, gyprock ceilings and a wood shed doing its best to fall down. Today the house has been restored to its original beauty. Walls with board two feet wide. Beams across the ceiling.
“You can still see the adze marks,” he points up at a beam. I nod. At home later I look up adze in a dictionary: “An ax-like tool with a curved blade at right angles to the handle, used for shaping wood.”
He has a new book out, The World War I Diaries and Letters of Lieut. Louis Stanley Edgett, edited with Moncton doctor Tom Edgett. Dave pops out of his chair and begins rooting in a desk drawer. Moments later he returns and hands me a copy.
“This is yours.”
A senior in the engineering and forestry program at UNB, the young man from Hillsborough was engaged to marry Eva Marshall of St. Stephen when he decided to enlist. He died on Vimy Ridge on May 1, 1917 and was buried nearby. He was 22,
I’d written my first book while still a student at Mt. A. I was wrapping up my final year when I decided I should have been an honours student, which required a thesis. Professor Peter Penner laughed when I plopped down on a chair in his office.
I thought you’d never figure it out, he smiled.
He had a project and $500 a month for the summer for someone to do it. I was to read the diaries of Frederick John Shore, a British civil servant working in India from 1799 until the early 1830s, and write about it. A year later the thesis, with excerpts from Shore’s writings, was a book published in India. My academic career seemed set. A scholarship to Carleton University in Ottawa sent me on my way.
Then it all fell apart.
I didn’t like the program and quit after two months. I’d written the foreign service exam while there and made it to the interview stage, one of the few to survive from the 2,000 or so who tried. I was to be interviewed in Ottawa, but the letter announcing that only reached me – in Miramichi – the day of the interview. I was working as young reporter for the Leader.
The interview was rescheduled for Halifax, where I whooped it up with friends the night before, arriving at the interview in a three-piece suit with a splitting headache.
The interview was a blurry nightmare with three people, representing the three branches of Canada’s diplomatic service, peppering me with questions. At one point, Chantale, an intimidatingly bright woman with auburn hair, set out a situation and asked me how to solve it.
“You’re working in an office overseas and the local commercial officer, who’s been there forever, isn’t happy with some of the changes you’re making. You call him in. What do you do?”
I was 22. What did I know? I bluffed. I said I’d be polite, but firm, explaining what I wanted and why.
“But it’s always been done this way…and you’re very young,” Chantale said, relishing her role.
“I’m not as young as I look,” I blurted out, my hangover giving the words a sharp edge.
Chantale howled with laughter. That was exactly what she’d said when the incident had happened to her.
I staggered from the room certain I’d just had the worst interview of my life. Entering next was a star pupil from my Mt. A. days, then working on his PhD. The serious candidates were obviously beginning.
Two months later I had three job offers from the foreign service and picked international trade because Chantale worked there and, if everyone there was like her, it looked like the place to be. My future seemed set.
Dave Beatty shook his head. He remembered the phone call he’d received from me two years later. I was the first student he’d ever had to become a diplomat, and I was quitting.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said simply.

Next time: The professor didn’t know what he wanted to be either.

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