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A kindness long remembered

A kindness long remembered

In the years between 1933 and 1968, the consideration and foresight of legendary Queen’s registrar Jean Royce changed countless lives. Benjamin Scott’s was one of them, and he never forgot it, writes Royce biographer Roberta Hamilton.
Ben Scott's Meds'43 graduation photo

In November 2005 I travelled to Houston, Texas, to meet a good friend, a person with whom I’d carried on a correspondence for nearly 10 years and to whom I owed a considerable debt. In 1996, Dr. Benjamin Scott, BA’38, MD’43, had sent the new Queen’s registrar, Joanne Bechthold, a heartfelt message. “I hope that one day someone will write about your tenure with as much gratitude and appreciation as I write of Dr. [Jean] Royce and Queen’s,” he said.

“In 1930s Montreal and elsewhere, there existed a very strict quota for Jewish students trying to get a university education, and so it was that my Quebec universities were closed to me. The possibilities that they would never be open would have made my later life intolerable; I had to graduate in medicine. You cannot possibly imagine with what heartache and desperation I applied to the Faculty of Arts [at Queen’s] and my utter disbelief when I was granted an interview with the registrar, Jean Royce.”

Ben began his nine years of studies at Queen’s in September 1934.

When I began writing a biography of Jean Royce, Ben’s 1996 letter fell into my possession, and I wasted little time in contacting him.

In his first letter to me, he declared that the former Registrar had been “a mensch, a person of grace, empathy, kindness, and understanding.”

In the succeeding years, Ben gave me good counsel on how to proceed, read drafts of my chapters and told me much about himself, his family and his life. In the course of our correspondence, he finally told me a much darker story of Queen’s medical school and his experience with anti-Semitism, an experience that delayed his graduation by a year and caused him lifelong pain. Despite my entreaties about institutions needing to acknowledge their past, he refused to allow me to tell this part of his story. I suspect I’ve already said more than he’d have liked, but appreciation of the depth of Ben Scott’s gratitude to Jean Royce and Queen’s ­requires at least this much to be known.

After the 2002 publication of Setting the Agenda, my Royce biography, Ben and I continued our correspondence. His feelings for Queen’s were complex, his memories “bittersweet,” though from all he wrote I’d say instead that his memories were bitter and sweet.

I invited myself to Houston. I wanted to express my gratitude to Ben in person. As I wrote him, “I don’t know anyone whom I’ve never met as well as I know you!” My plan was to stay in a hotel, but Ben in characteristic fashion gave me three choices: two hotels or, “by far the best of all, the Scott residence.” Only after my arrival did Ben tell me that the following week he and his wife Dorothy were moving to a retirement home. He had not wanted to let me know before I arrived lest I not come.

After reading my book, Ben had written to tell me, “With this work of yours and my very tiny contribution, I feel a tremendous sense of both gratitude and relief that now a long-overdue debt to Jean Royce has … been partly repaid … and I prefer to believe that she is aware of it. It is quite impossible for me to adequately describe what she did for this 16 year-old, defying severe parental disapproval, when she accepted my ‘last chance’ application and made for me a life worth living.” (In that regard, Ben shared much in common with his good friend Alfred Bader, Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86, who also owed his acceptance at Queen’s to Jean Royce).

Ben Scott practised medicine for nearly six decades in Montreal and Houston. He died on March 21, 2012, having been predeceased by Dorothy in 2007.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]