Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thomas Sherret Hutchison

Some of you, if you've been reading this blog recently, will know that I went to a military college.  Yes, well, how did a Vancouver granola kid end up at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC)?

In fact, I had grown up in Vancouver (British Columbia) and even volunteered for a bit at the Greenpeace office in the 70s (before it became an international going concern.)  It had occurred to me that, like most of my other classmates at Magee Secondary School, I would probably end up going to the University of British Columbia.  There was only one problem.  I had a private pilot license and I really wanted to be a commercial pilot.  In Canada, at that time, there were pretty much only two ways that you could become a commercial pilot:  (a) become a bush pilot or (b) join the Air Force. 

As it happened, as I was considering my options, for the very first time, RMC, under pressure from Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, had decided to accept women.

I was also quite interested in science and I heard that RMC had a pretty good science program.

Finally, I also wanted to escape the west coast, at least for a while.

And that is how I ended up standing there in first year physics lab, in my damn uniform, trying to remember what I should write under "Method" and whether or not I should have separate sections for "Discussion" and "Conclusion".  So here comes Professor Hutchison.  At this time, he was several years before retiring.  I'm sure he thought I was a complete novelty and I distinctly had the impression that he thought I should be taking English Literature or Anthropology at Queen's or U of T not Physics at RMC.  In spite of this, I think he took me on as a special case.   He would come to where I was rushing to throw my "Experiment" together and try to give me a few suggestions.  He had a Scottish drawl and a very dry wit which, at the time, I did not fully appreciate.  I somehow survived the first year Experimentation lab in part due to his patient attention.  Dr. Baird was also a professor in the Experimentation lab.

I took a class in solid state physics from him in second year which was very good.

He would often try to talk to me about golf.  Golf!  "We are not running a country club here, Professor Hutchison."  My chosen sports were cross country running and track and I was usually in no mood to discuss golf.  I did tell him one time that my Dad liked golf. I could tell that he made the point of writing that in his mental notebook.

In third year, I ran across him at a social function.  By this time, my class load was particularly heavy and my formerly very dedicated running schedule had been down graded a bit.  I had figured out that I could use the after class "training" to instead escape (jog) to Kingston in order to hang out with some of the students at Queens University.  Hutchinson was chiding me about not being a very dedicated athlete.  Misunderstanding him, I quietly vowed not to speak to him again.

And I never did.  I graduated a year later.  I never said goodbye.  He retired.  He died in the mid-nineties.

I found out quite recently that he had told David Baird that he knew what I was up to.  He knew that I had been escaping to Queens.  He apparently thought it was funny and was delighted for me.

So sad.

Thomas Sherret Hutchison

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