My Walter Gage story evolves around a student accident that happened over 45 years ago and led to a call from the UBC President’s office.
The chariot race rules are simple: First over the finish line wins. The second rule was: It’s okay to attack the opponent’s chariot to prevent it from crossing the finish line. The half-time chariot race is meant to be a “friendly” war.That year Forestry designed huge chariot that had the team completely inside. It reminded me of the Merrimac ship in the US Civil War. The idea was to protect the “mules” from being distracted by urine spray, pig manure bombs and pelted by eggs. You had to give Forestry kudos for a noble and totally unexpected design. However, it was a Beta version and obviously had not gone through battle trials, especially how it would withstand a barrage of drunken, terosterone-fuelled, vaseline-covered engineers. It would be a one and done creation.
I was on the catapult firing eggs into the mayhem. From our sideline vantage point, we also acted as unofficial safety observers. And unfortunately something unsafe did happen with bad consequences. A Forestry student fell under his own massive chariot. The fortress on wheels rolled over him and I could see he was was severely injured. One forearm was cut open leaving huge gashes. We waved to the paramedics standing next to our catapult. To this day I can see in my mind their splashing on antiseptic and then quickly hauling him away.
After the race student warriors returned to the now long gone Civil Engineering building that was home to the EUS office. There obviously was much inebriated celebration during the hosing down ritual. Word circulated about the accident but nobody knew how bad the injuries where. An hour or so later, the phone rang in the EUS office. It was from President Gage and he wanted to speak to the EUS Executive.
In all my years on campus, it was the most nerve-wracking walk I had ever made. A call to appear before the President on a serious matter. Involving another student’s life. My head was spinning as I witnessed the damage. Did he lose the use of his arms? His hands? What will President Gage say? What should we say? Will there be suspensions?
I remember it well. Walter Gage was solemn, quiet. He looked at each of us and said “Well, boys, looks like things got out of hand.” He told us while the arm injury was severe, there apparently would be no permanent damage. Lucky for the Forestry student. Lucky of all of us involved in the chariot race. He asked us to take precautions to prevent future accidents.
End of story. Well, not quite.
Did I say no punishment? Let me correct that. While there wasn’t any formal apologies demanded nor suspensions or fines administered, there certainly was a big impact. I didn’t sleep well that night as I kept thinking…how could we have let this man down who has done so much for the EUS? For UBC? If our EUS/Gage trust relationship was a bank account, we undoubtedly had made a gigantic withdrawal. So going forward, what deposits could we make to avoid going into bankruptcy? What can we do to make him happy? At a personal level, what might I do that would make him happy?
There was no immediate answer. However, it came later in the year in President Gage’s address in Slipstick ’71, the EUS yearbook.
“I was particularly happy to note the highly important part played by many of them, including a large number of former E.U.S. executive members, in the affairs of their communities.”
I vowed back then that I would be an active member of my community and voluntarily offer my services where needed. And over the years I believe I’ve kept my promise to make Walter Gage happy.