Monday 6 June 2011

World's Greatest Grandad

On June 6, 1902, Harold Ross Tufts entered the world. Born in Kirkton, Ontario, he was the son of a farmer and a homemaker. He was the grandson of an Englishman, Thomas Tufts, who first immigrated to Canada in 1851 at the tender age of 15. A true pioneer, Thomas settled on virgin land, felled the trees, built a house and barn, and worked the land, all with his own hands.

Thomas married Harriet Beavers and they proceeded to raise a family of ten children. All ten children were raised in the Christian faith, attending the Methodist church in the village. Thomas considered not only religion, but also education to be important, and donated the materials for a brick schoolhouse to be built just north of town to replace the wooden structure.

One of his sons, Samuel Tufts, married Annie Ross who gave birth to Truman Samuel, followed by Harold Ross. Harold grew up on the farm and quickly learned how to help plant and harvest the crops. He also developped an affection for the horses. By six years of age, he attended the one room schoolhouse for which his grandfather had donated the materials. From an early age, he was an enthusiastic and dedicated student.

In grade seven and eight, he had to ride his bicycle a few miles up the road to Winchelsea where he attended a middle school. It was at Winchelsea school that he wrote a math test for which he received a mediocre grade. His teacher posted the test on the blackboard and ridiculed Harold for being weak in math. Determined to prove the teacher wrong, Harold set out to ace every math test in the future.

Harold graduated from Grade 8 and enjoyed his last summer on the farm before moving to board with a family in St. Mary's, a bigger town with a high school, the following Fall. High school proved to be a good experience for Harold where he managed to improve immensely on his math marks while at the same time not neglecting his other subjects. He made new friends and continued to visit the farm on weekends, and at Christmas and Easter. In the summer, he returned to the farm where he helped his Dad and his older brother tend to the crops.

After attending five years of high school and receiving many excellent report cards, Harold was accepted at the University of Western Ontario in London. The 1920's was a time when not many people attended university, often because they could not afford it. Fortunately, Samuel had made provisions so that Truman would inherit the farm and Harold would attend university. Still remembering what that teacher had said in Grade 8, Harold chose to major in Math. In fact, he chose to do a double major in Math and Physics, thereby increasing his chances of getting a job.

While at Western, Harold was not just an academic, but a well-rounded student, pursuing extracurricular activities like long distance running and even boxing. At church, he honed his skills as a piano player and a tenor in the choir. After five years of university, Harold graduated from the University of Western Ontario "summa cum laude" in 1925.

Harold was accepted at the Ontario College of Education in Toronto to study for his Bachelor of Education. Once again, he was out to achieve not mediocre, but excellent, marks. Even though the economy was not doing so well, Harold managed to receive three teaching job offers on Easter weekend of that year. The fact that he had taken a double major had paid off.

On a personal note, while singing in the Danforth Avenue United Church choir, Harold met a young woman named Dorothy Brown. In 1931, they married and later had two children, Norman Ross, my Dad, and (Florence) Marilyn. I remember celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary as a new teenager and their 60th anniversary as a new fiancee.

Harold went on to enjoy a long, successful career with the Toronto Board of Education. He taught at Eastern High School of Commerce for 45 years, missing only one day of school! Adored by his students, he truly loved his profession and it showed.

Even though my Grandad retired a year before I was born, I can remember him telling me stories about teaching and he acted as my inspiration to become a teacher. While many of his students considered him to be the "World's Greatest Teacher", my siblings and I thought he was the "World's Greatest Grandad". I can recall us giving him a present one year, a pen holder with a little man on it with just such an inscription.

There is a postscript to this story. Thirty years after Grandad retired from the Toronto School Board, he was living in an old folks home in the metropolitan area. He was in his nineties and unfortunately had developped Alzheimer's Disease. One day, he escaped from the home and, accustomed to walking four miles a day, he set out to do just that. However, he got lost and confused, not knowing his place of residence or even his name. After about a mile of walking, he fell and broke his glasses. Thankfully, in the great metropolis, he did not run into a thief or a drug dealer or even a stranger. He ran into one of his former students! And even more surprisingly, the student even recognized Mr. Tufts, despite the passing of over 30 years! The student figured out where my Grandad lived and returned him safely to the old folks home. You reap what you sew, as they say.

Below is a poem that I wrote dedicated to Harold Ross Tufts.
Happy Birthday, Grandad!


"World's greatest teacher", the inscription reads.
His students numbered 8000 or more.
Devoting his life to doing good deeds,
He planned his lessons down to the ties that he wore.

Mathematics was the subject he taught;
He traced perfect shapes on his large blackboard.
He would stay late if extra help was sought;
Slow to criticize and quick to reward.

His hearty laughter filled Eastern High's halls.
His radiant smile calmed his student's fears.
His guiding hands led the school band at balls.
He served his profession for forty-five years.

He inspired many to follow his lead.
Mr. Tufts, "World's Greatest Teacher", indeed!

Photo courtesy Eastern High School of Commerce.

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