How Walter Gage impacted Michael Davies

I came to UBC in 1966 as a fresh young Assistant Professor, barely older than the second year Engineering students I was assigned to teach.
I quickly became aware of Walter Gage as a guardian angel to students, who would go to him as Dean of Students for advice and for help in times of trouble. He had a special affection for Engineering students, and they reciprocated.

Walter was an outstanding maths teacher. In those days, at registration, we used IBM cards to assign students to classes – the cards for Walter’s section of MATH350 (Complex Analysis for Engineers) were scarce as hens’ teeth shortly after registration opened. Shortly after it closed, he knew the name of every student in his class.

During this period the university went through (dèja vu) turbulent times and Walter was asked successively to serve as Acting President and then as University President. I don’t think that he particularly relished high office- he certainly didn’t allow it to interfere with his close association with Engineering students.

In about 1968,I had the honour to be elected Honourary President of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS). This was a position used by the EUS student Executive to co-opt an apparently congenial faculty member in order to give a veneer of respectability to activities that might otherwise not attract approbation. My hair still stands on end when I recollect some of those experiences, in which I participated enthusiastically.”

But by far the high point of my duties on the EUS Executive,was to attend a formal dinner arranged by President Gage. I’m not sure whether he did this every year, but that year, shortly after student elections, both the current and incoming Engineering student councils were invited to a formal dinner in the Social Suite of the (former) Faculty Club. This was as good as it got in those days- this was where the Board met, and where visiting royalty and Presidents were entertained. We were all spruced up and on our best behaviour. After a splendid meal Walter gave a speech of welcome and congratulations and presented each of us with a set of inscribed paperback books. The titles had been chosen with care,and carried a message-I still have mine. One was The Four Voyages of Columbus (he didn’t make it first three times), another was The Prevalence of Nonsense (don’t believe it all) and so on. We all left feeling we had been honoured.

Of course this was also the year that Jerry Rubin came visiting from California and found a mob of sympathetic students to help him liberate UBC in general, and the Faculty Club in particular. Primary attention was paid to the bar, and things soon got out of control. The EUS maintained a cohort of stalwart students who helped club finances by taking on contracts as bouncers in some of the rougher bars about town (in those days the closest beer to UBC was either the Cecil in town or the Fraser Arms in Marpole). EUS made it clear that it would have been their pleasure to lift the occupation, but President Gage demurred, and Campus Security was called in instead.

My second personal encounter with President Gage was at the Engineers’ Ball in 1972. I had the honour to be an inaugural recipient of the Walter Gage Teaching Award. At half time Walter called me to the stage and presented the Award. As he did so, he told me “these awards seem routine when you’re young, but they will mean more and more to you in time” – and of course he was right. It is one of my fondest UBC memories!

He was a wonderful man.

Michael Davies

Davies receiving WHG Teaching award