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A 50-year delay

A 50-year delay

Photo by Lars Hagberg

“Journalism, are you out of your mind? Your career is in engineering, not in journalism!” Those harsh words would cause a 50-year delay in launching my journalistic career.

The explosive comments came from my father, when I arrived home to announce the career recommendations of my high school English teacher, Christine Tilden. Christine was my high school mentor. She had worked behind the scenes arranging for me to be editor of the Oracle yearbook, president of the literary society and class valedictorian.

When my close friend Doug died from a ruptured appendix, she taught me how to grieve. “Write about Doug,” was her advice. It was good advice. It was advice that I have followed all my life. I have a file of eulogies, poems and memoirs of friends that have departed. I sat down and cried as I wrote a poem about Doug. The words flowed and the tears flowed, as I let it all come out. It became my first published poem.

My father’s outburst was not unexpected. He had a temper that complimented his head of bright red hair. Our family tree is populated with engineers, architects and contractors. There are no journalists, novelists or poets. Obviously my DNA is flawed. There’s a bad link in my chain. Maybe I’m illegitimate? My 50-year career in engineering had begun. I graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in civil engineering and went on to build a succession of engineering, construction and development companies.

I loved every minute of it. I looked forward to going to work each morning. But I also kept writing. There were dozens of technical articles and reports. I was frequently invited to speak at engineering and community events. My friend John Ellis, who was dean of engineering at the Royal Military College, and I tried unsuccessfully to have English taught in the second year of engineering. We argued that engineers were poor communicators and that report writing and client dialogue required a good English education. We failed. Engineers are still poor communicators.

Over the years, dozens of engineering reports highlighted with red and yellow markers, flagging errors in spelling and grammar would cross my editing desk. My employees hated me.

Fifty years after Miss Tilden offered her career advice, I began my long delayed career as a novelist. I have since published four novels, written plays and delivered motivational lectures on "Therapeutic gardening for Zoomers" and "What to do with your life, before you kick the bucket."

It is never too late to write.

Thomas McCavour is a Science '52 Civil Engineer.



[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 2-2016]