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Your favourite professors

Your favourite professors

We asked Review readers about their favourite professors, and they told us ….

Letters from:

  • Alan Breck, Sc'70, MSc'72, Ed'73
  • Helen Cooper, Artsci'68
  • Ramsay Withers, Sc'54
  • Doug Whelan, Sc‘62
  • Daniel Simpson, Artsci’81
  • Ann Gay, NSc’67, MEd ‘82
  • Patricia Prentice NSc’59
  • Christine (Dayes) Monteiro, Artsci’89, and
  • Katrine Doucet, Artsci'99.
Several readers recognized these two gentlemen from "The making of those memorable professors" in Issue #3. They are Bob Wheeler and Wally Breck at their famous Christmas lecture.

Remembering Professors Breck and Wheeler

I was quite surprised to open the Fall Edition of Queen's Alumni Review (Issue 3, 2010) and find a picture of my dad in the Table of Contents. That's him, Dr. Wally (W.G.) Breck, in the white lab coat at the bottom of the page. His buddy, Dr. Bob (R.G.) Wheeler, is holding the microphone. Dad and Bob were both professors in the Chemistry Department.

For many years, they held a special Christmas lecture, which wasn't a lecture at all. It was a set of interesting demonstrations, like talking with a lungful of helium, and trying to gargle liquid nitrogen.

Thanks for including this photo as the title back drop for your article entitled "The Making of Memorable Professors".  I'm probably a little biased, but I think that associating dad and Bob with the phrase "memorable professor" is a very appropriate choice!!

Alan Breck,
Sc'70, MSc'72, Ed'73

Memories of the Christmas Show

I had a chance to read this edition of the review today re: "The making of those memorable professors". The contents page, right inside the front cover had a picture of two of the best professors an undergraduate student could ever have and I was lucky enough to be one of those students. To add to this was, on page 44, a picture of Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University, for receiving a Medal of Distinction from Barnard College. Shirley was one of those lucky undergrads as well.

The two professors were Wally Breck (holding the balloon) and Bob Wheeler (holding the microphone). They both taught courses in second year inorganic chemistry. Dr. Breck was the boundless enthusiast about everything to do with qualitative analysis; Dr Wheeler was the quiet guy who managed to build into his course the chemistry of photographic processing (in the days before digital photography) as he was a highly skilled photographer as well. They had markedly different teaching styles but were equally effective. For several years, at the end of the first term, they produced the "Christmas Show" for everyone in the Chemistry Department. It was all about sounds and lights and things that go boom in the night - it really was the outcome of whatever kid with a chemistry set would dream of!

They were two wonderful teachers and two very remarkable people. If you could republish that photograph (reproduced from Tricolour '67) with the acknowledgement of these two fine professors I would be very grateful!

Thank you,

Helen Cooper
Class of Artsci'68

"Gentlemen, the dogs can't be wrong."

My favourite is Professor (Colonel) Douglas Jemmett who was Head of the Department from 1924 to 1960. Even although he was a Queen's graduate engineer, he joined the Royal Canadian Engineers in the ranks in the First World War, was decorated for valour and then commissioned. As a veteran student just returned from the Korean War to complete my final year in electrical I was most fortunate to have this distinguished gentleman teach me lessons I remember today.

Professor Jemmett was an example of physical fitness as we saw him bound up the stairs to the top floor of Fleming Hall, often smoking his beloved White Owl cigar.

His two spaniels came to class with him and would sense when the bell was about to ring to signal end-of-session, get up and stand by the door. One day it was some minutes before the end of the hour when the dogs got up. "Dougie" Jemmett closed his black note book and said, "Gentlemen, the dogs can't be wrong," and departed.

He was the greatest.

Ramsey Withers, Sc'54 (Electrical Engineering)

Brevity being the soul of wit . . .

My favourite professor was Prof. Harold W. Harkness, BA’13, BSc’15. I don’t recall “Harkie” ever mingling with us outside of class. He was not my favourite because he ranked high on the congeniality scale. I don’t recall any of our profs being high on that scale in those days.

I liked him because he taught us a lot, including things that I still use to this day. I mentioned him about two weeks ago when I was talking to a board I sit on.

I was explaining why I could get more financial (in this case) information onto “one page” than almost anyone else. Harkness used to come into class and say, “Harumph! Gentlemen . . . !” and then he would launch into his lesson for the day. At the end of the class he would give us an assignment and then warn us to get the answer back to him on one page only. “If it goes over, I won’t even read it!” he cautioned. He never varied from this. And he expected the writing and numbers to be big enough to actually be readable! Now that is teaching!

Doug Whelan, Sc‘62
Newbury, NH

Inspirational figures

My favourite teachers were Profs. George Clark, who taught me so much on the relevance of the personal figure in literature, William Thorne, who encouraged me despite my lack of personal factual knowledge and Douglas Babington, who defined fantasy and also shared his academic background in Greece. Prof. Herbert Basser, you are a beacon in my mature years. I benefited much from your scholarship. So many others have [also] been for me like navigators over time.

These people inspired me to write and think boldly about the past, the present, the future. I cannot actually remember my favourite history teacher’s name, but he was very interesting, and I listened to him lecture in an Episcopalian church. He let me create a discourse on Cuba in our class on nonconforming religions, and during my final examination he approached me in the gymnasium to tell me that I didn’t have to write the final; I was going to get “accommodation.” But I was so certain of his unusual heuristic talents in the historical field that I wrote a very good exam anyway.

Bravo! Such teachers! I can barely mention their names without awe.

Daniel Simpson, Artsci’81
Chatham, ON

Giving the “what” to explain “why”

It was the 1966-67 academic year—we had full-year courses then—and being a final-year BNSc student, Medical Physiology was for me a required course. It was offered by a series of respected profs, including Dr. Duncan Sinclair, PhD’63, LLD’00, who went on to be Dean of Medicine at Queen’s, and Dr. Donald Hatcher, LLD’85, who did the same at Dalhousie. But for me, Dr. Margaret (“Peg”) Sawyer was the one who connected particularly well with the small group of Nurses in the class.

Because of the way the old Nursing program was structured, we were already RNs by the time we got to final year. And during our extensive “hospital training” we had seen many examples of physiology gone wrong in our patients.

Sawyer took pains to relate how the body worked to our nursing practice—provided the “why” to promote understanding of “what” we were doing for patients.

When we tested our lungs against the lab spyrometers to learn about lung capacity, Sawyer tested hers too. She worked beside us as we beavered away in those long Friday afternoon labs, and was as excited about our “discoveries” as we were.

Our connection that year was even more special because she was going through a life crisis and some of us could offer something in return. We were still taking a few shifts at KGH where her husband, a well–respected chemistry Prof at RMC, was fighting a terminal illness. In the ultimate melding of theory and practice, we cared for him and she taught us the theory. I can only hope she felt her effort with us was rewarded.

Years later, during the ice storm of ‘98, I was organizing a temporary shelter at KGH for seniors’ needing care. Peg Sawyer was one of the people we were able to shelter until her home was back on the grid. It must have been a very confusing time for her, as she was quite elderly by then. When I recognized her and acknowledged her as a former prof, her tired eyes lit up with recognition. New things were beyond her grasp, but a chat about anything related to human physiology was still clear and pleasurable.

When I look back at learning at Queen’s, I think of her.

Ann Gay, NSc’67, MEd ‘82
Kingston, ON

Hands-down favourite

My “hands-down choice” as my favourite professor at Queen’s was—and still is—the late Prof. Sandy Duncan, who died in 1993. He was my first-year professor in philosophy and he changed my entire way of thinking. I have used what he taught me ever since, both in my profession and in my everyday life. Grateful thanks to Prof. Duncan, happy memories.

Patricia Prentice NSc’59
East York, ON

A love of language

I cannot look back on my years at Queen's without remembering Mme. Colette Tonge in the French Department.

Although both fearful and in awe of her as a first-year student, my admiration and respect for her grew only greater each passing year. She was the one who urged those of us majoring in French to look abroad and consider spending our third year of study in her magnificent homeland, France. [She was] the one who made me believe that studying abroad was, in fact, a possibility for even a small- town girl like me.
Although stern at first glance, she was unfailingly fair, and praise was given as earned, bringing all the more glory for knowing it was never handed out casually.

In her, I felt a kindred spirit when it came to the love of language and "le mot juste."
Merci Madame. Toujours dans mes pensées.

Christine (Dayes) Monteiro, Artsci’89
Bowmanville, ON

A mentor and a guide

My favourite professor was Dr. Kevin Munhall (department of Psychology). His Psycholinguistics course inspired me to become a speech-language pathologist. Dr. Munhall really excelled at making the material fun and interesting for all of his students, by doing everything from showing movies of chimpanzees learning to communicate to bringing in a model of the human larynx. Dr. Munhall was also my undergraduate honours thesis supervisor and I could not have asked for a more helpful, approachable and knowledgeable mentor. His door was always open anytime I had questions and he guided me through every step of my project, while allowing me to take on more responsibility as I grew and could handle more challenges. I have no doubt that his expertise and his confidence in me played a role in my becoming the person and the professional that I am today.

Katrine Doucet, Artsci‘99
Montreal, QC