He had tears in his eyes

When I came to UBC to be interviewed for the position of Head of the Department of Psychology (in 1972), I heard about Walter Gage: that he was a great teacher, loved by the students, and the antidote to all the upheaval that was roiling universities around the world. Somewhat to my surprise, after one of my meetings with Doug Kenny, then the Dean of Arts, he took me to meet President Gage. I was surprised, because none of my previous job interviews had involved a president.

Doug took me over to the President’s office, introduced me, and then left. Pres. Gage asked me some questions about my current job (chairman of a psychology department at Rutgers), how I was enjoying my visit to Vancouver and UBC, etc. We had a pleasant chat, and then he asked me about my family background. I told him I was born in Hungary, lived there during World War II, then emigrated with my father and ended up in the US. He then asked about my mother, and I told him that she had died in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

He got up from behind his desk, came over to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said something like, “My poor boy.” I was shocked to see that he had tears in his eyes. I was indescribably touched by his warmth and sympathy. My positive feelings about the department, the dean I would be working with, the university, and the city were now strongly reinforced by my feelings for the President, feelings and a memory that have been with me ever since.

Peter Suedfeld