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Letters to the editor: August 2019

Letters to the editor: August 2019

Alfred Bader’s scholarly pursuits

This year’s winter issue of the Queen’s Alumni Review paints a vivid picture of Alfred Bader’s “extraordinary life” and his many accomplishments. The lead article focuses on his years as a student at Queen’s and his subsequent acts of generosity to it, stretching over more than five decades. The portrait stresses the bricks-and-mortar aspects of his benefactions: his acquisition for Queen’s of Herstmonceux Castle and the construction of the sonorously marvellous Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Even the mention of his frequent gifts to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre takes on the character of another edifice: an imaginary palace filled with works of art, such as his beloved Rembrandt might have depicted. Our experience of Alfred, however, casts him in an additional and slightly different light, one which we want to share with your readers.

Alfred Bader in his home study, 2008. Photo: David Bader Photography


To us, Alfred personified someone dedicated above all to the advancement of scholarship at his alma mater. We think firstly of the numerous student awards he established – too numerous to single out. Each in its own way conferred on the deserving recipient a timely mark of approbation and of encouragement to pursue further study. Secondly, we remember Alfred's truly remarkable endowment of three academic chairs related to his two great scholarly passions: art history and chemistry. Initially, he endowed the Bader Chair in Organic Chemistry, then the Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art, and finally, in 2002, its counterpart, the Bader Chair in Southern Baroque Art. Each chair comes with funds to advance research and increase our library’s holdings, consequently benefiting the entire Queen’s community, especially its students. Rarely in the annals of academic institutions has a university been thrice-blessed in this way by a single enlightened donor.

In conclusion, we would like to highlight Alfred as a scholar in his own right. Chemists worldwide recognize the tremendous effect he had on their work, their lives. and the discipline of chemistry overall. Art historians – some 22 of them – paid tribute to him in a series of scholarly articles under the title Collected Opinions: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Honour of Alfred Bader (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2004). Alfred wrote individually to the contributors thanking them and offering mini-critiques of their articles. Here is another indication of the seriousness Alfred attached to the life of the intellect and to the discernment born of years living with and loving works of art. To honour his passionate commitment to the art-chemistry overlap, we offered homage with a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Chemistry (2006) and a symposium, Colour in Art and Chemistry (2008) at Grant Hall on his 80th birthday.

Among the elements in the periodic table, which Alfred knew by heart, the symbol for gold – Au (short for aurum in Latin) – ranks very near the top of the alphabetical list. It seems to both of us that Alfred Bader’s gifts to scholarly life at Queen’s University set a gold standard for far-sighted commitment to the pursuit of excellence in the arts and science.

Pierre du Prey
Professor of Art History and Queen’s Research Chair Emeritus

Victor Snieckus
Professor of Chemistry and Bader Chair in Organic Chemistry Emeritus

“A part of one great human family”

In our May issue, we reported on the death of William Waddell, Jr., MD'60. Dr. Waddell’s son David Waddell, Artsci’89, shared with us a piece his dad had written in 1990 that shared his insights on growing up in wartime.

Young men want to die for a cause. Old men want to live for one.”

Your views on events in the Middle East inspired this piece, David.

I write in pencil now … a nice, soft HB which rubs out easily, and makes revision so much easier to do. It is interesting to rediscover something from my youth. My earliest memories are of the Second World War. Of my mother teaching me, a five-year old, the actions to be taken in the event of an air raid … turn out the lights, draw the drapes, fill the bathtubs with water, go to the basement to turn off the gas and electricity, and listen for instructions from the civil defence authority on the battery radio.

Many things were rationed during the war. We had books with stamps in them which allowed us to purchase sugar, butter, and flour. We grew vegetables in “Victory Gardens” to supplement the food supply. We recycled things like tin cans which were flattened and collected during drives to feed the steel furnaces in Hamilton. Kitchen grease was used to make explosives, and a tin can full of it would get you into the matinee at a movie theatre on a Saturday. In the fall, we gathered milkweed pods. I was told the silk was used to make parachute cloth, but learned later that it was used as stuffing for life preservers.

Some things were scarce, like tires for cars, or tins of salmon, or nylon stockings. When we learned that these precious items were available at a store, we would go there, and stand in line to get them. They were rationed in an informal way by the merchant who offered “one to a customer,” or such like. I don’t remember much cheating or gouging then. The war had made us into one family, most everyone working for a common purpose. That was the good part of it, I suppose. But there were bad parts too. I learned to hate … the Germans, and the Japanese. We boys would put stones named Hitler and Tojo on a cardboard box in the alley, and light it on fire, cheering as the stones hit the ground. I had frightening nightmares in which I imagined that my parents were German spies, my true parents being confined in a secret room in the basement of our home.

Because we lived in an upper middle-class area, few of the men I knew went away to war. They were needed to keep the factories producing the materials of war. Chrysler made trucks and tanks. Ford made bombers at Willow Run, one an hour, I believe … astonishing, this industrial might of America. Not that we were untouched by the conflict. The Essex Scottish, a Windsor regiment, was cut to pieces at Dieppe. Our two cenotaphs listed the names of many young men whom I would never know. So, it is no wonder that the old Austrian who ran a bakery over in Remington Park had rocks thrown through his windows in the middle of the night. Or that the Japanese on our west coast were shipped off to internment camps in the interior.

When the war ended, there was a general celebration. Mr. Cochrane, our next-door neighbour and the vice-president of purchasing at Ford Canada, piled all us kids in his convertible, and drove down the main street of the city. Car horns were honking. Factory whistles were blowing. Church bells were ringing. Servicemen were kissing every woman in sight in the curious “lay-them-out” style of that day. Later, the men in our neighbourhood got together down the block to get drunk. Mild-mannered Mr. Cotton, an executive at Parke Davis, had to be helped home by his disapproving wife. And, as my father danced with Mr. Pogue, my grade school principal, he ripped the front right out of the poor fellow’s shirt and broke his glasses too. It was the greatest outpouring of joy and relief that I had ever witnessed. But there was a cost, as we were soon to see. It wasn’t long before the men came back from overseas. The whole ones got sweet, steady jobs as clerks in government establishments. The broken ones were pensioned off or hidden in special hospitals run by the DVA. Some had been driven mad by the war. They had seen things that no man should ever see, and done things that no man should ever do. Others had their limbs blown off by shells or mines, or their faces burned away by flaming fuel. Many of these wounded stayed in seclusion until they died, which was not long for most. But a few were not afraid to display their mutilation … to show us the price that they had paid for our freedom. All this, and I was only ten years old.

So don’t tell me that patriotism is all bad, for I have seen the better parts it brings … the selflessness … the true sense of community. And now perhaps, you will understand why I despise those who dishonour this country and its traditions by burning flags, or desecrating monuments to draw attention to their trivial causes. At the same time, as I have aged I have come to know some truths. The propaganda I was exposed to in my childhood dehumanized the enemy. It is wrong to teach a child to hate. Such inculcation is the root of all conflict. I have learned that all people are born and die, work and play, laugh and cry. I often wonder why we all cannot see ourselves as part of one great human family and get along without war. That is what our prophets say, I think.

This started as a comment on the humble pencil, and it has led me to this nice little piece of personal history. Nice for me, anyway, irrelevant reminiscences for most, I suppose.

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[cover image of the Queen's Alumni Review issue 3, 2019, showing art conservator Heidi Sobol with a painting by Rembrandt]