(This originally appeared on the blog portion of my MobileMe site, in a post dated April 7, 2011.)
Louise Wyatt was my Central Secondary School English teacher in Grade 12. I remember her as being a formidable force, a person not to be crossed, but also an inspiration. She made English classes interesting in a way I did not think possible. Her enthusiastic recitations of John Donne’s poems still play on in my memory. An even stronger recollection is when she stood up in class, swung her arms back and forth, and said “r-h-y-t-h-m” over and over again. From that day forward, I never had any trouble remembering how to spell that word.
But some important advice from Miss Wyatt never resurfaced until decades later. During Christmas 1997, I visited my father, who then lived in Duncan, B.C. A friend of my father’s, writer Frank Hird-Rutter (1928-2003), paid a visit to my father, and chatted with both him and me. Hird-Rutter encouraged me to read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (1992) because he was convinced I should write more. In fact, he was so convinced I should do this that he loaned me his copy of Cameron’s book.
On the way back on the plane, I read it and concluded he was right. Then I started reading Carol Shields’s novel, The Stone Diaries (1993). Shields acknowledged the help of a number of people, including Miss Wyatt. That’s when my former teacher’s advice resurfaced.
Miss Wyatt retired in 1969. Shortly before I graduated from Grade 13 in June 1970, she came into my home room and placed a book in my hand. It was called Write, Write, Write. She said she was giving me this book as a graduation gift because she thought I should get into my writing seriously. I thanked her for the book and told her I thought that was a good idea, but I wanted to wait until I had more experience, like when I was in my 40s. Talk about serendipity!
On April 9, 1998, I phoned Miss Wyatt, who was by then in a nursing home. I told her the good news that I was getting into my writing. I also told her that I had lived for 12 and a half years in Northern Ontario and the Northwest Territories. She said she thought living in the North was “a wonderful way to learn the truth.” I asked her if I could visit her, but she said she wanted me to remember her as she was back at Central. I was glad I was able to have that conversation with her before she passed away, at 92, in 2000.
In 2003, Central celebrated its 125th anniversary. I did not attend, but I read London Free Press columnist James Reaney’s January 26, 2003 column about when he was at Central (the same time as me, actually, although we were in different classes). He mentioned “the mighty Miss Wyatt” who had “touched the lives” of former premier John Robarts, radio personality Max Ferguson and environmentalist David Suzuki.
In fact, Suzuki included Miss Wyatt in a 1998 CBC-TV Life and Times documentary about himself. Her influence on him is also recorded in a 2004 article. In both Suzuki’s and my case, we had lost touch with Miss Wyatt for decades, but we eventually rediscovered her influence on us. Unfortunately, in 1996, I gave away the Write, Write, Write book. But the following year, I embarked on a journey that Miss Wyatt and I had both foretold in that Central home room many years before.