It was a small gesture, in a way, but one that affected the rest of my life, as small gestures so often do. The time was the mid-1980s, and I was in Grade 12 at I.E. Weldon. I wasn’t a great math student, but for some reason I was still taking functions and relations, with David Auger — well, he was Mr. Auger to us, of course — as my teacher.
I thought he was nice enough; he seemed kind, if awkward, and he encouraged me despite my lack of aptitude for his subject.
I was a lifeguard and swimming instructor at what was then the Aquatorium — the swimming pools that are now part of the Lindsay Recreation Centre. Mr. Auger’s son (I didn’t know Mrs. Auger, Anneke, yet) was enrolled in one of my classes. He was a great kid, and he tried his hardest, but he was young and wasn’t quite strong enough a swimmer for me to promote him to the next level. He must have been disappointed when his progress card said he’d failed, but like any selfish teenager, all I could think about was what his dad’s reaction would be.
The next day in functions class, we were working individually on some problems Mr. Auger had assigned as he walked around to see who needed help. As he got closer to where I sat, I could feel myself tensing. When he stopped beside my desk and leaned down to talk to me, I think I probably stopped breathing. He never struck me as a guy who’d get angry, but then, I’d just failed his kid at swimming.
Dave didn’t stop long at my desk — just long enough to say in a low voice, “You did the right thing.” At the time, I felt the stress and worry drain away and a wave of appreciation wash over me. But now, when I think about that moment, I feel so much more.
He not only recognized the uncomfortable situation I was in, but saw how important it was to let me know that not only was he not upset with me, he understood and supported my decision. Just a few words and a few seconds, but it demonstrated the power of character and compassion in a way that I’ve never forgotten.
I moved away, went to university, and, about 22 years ago, returned to the area with my husband to live, work and raise a family. When you do that, you run into a lot of people you used to know — former classmates and colleagues, childhood friends, and yes, your old high school teachers. When I encountered Dave Auger again, it was as an adult attending the same United church.
Over those years, I came to respect him even more as I realized his deep commitment to his faith, to social justice and to quiet, genuine decency. He was a long-time member of Amnesty International and the Optimist Club, both of them in their own way dedicated to making the world and our community a better, fairer, kinder place.
As Parkinson’s started to take its toll, Dave had to step down from his volunteer responsibilities. He held out as long as he could against its cruel progression, which robbed him of his ability first to cycle and canoe, and ultimately to walk. Nevertheless, he retained his keen intellect, his sense of humour and his way of making you feel valued when you talked to him, even as speech became more difficult.
I was never a star student in Dave Auger’s class — not by a long shot. To be honest, I doubt I could solve a single functions question now, but the lesson I learned in his classroom that day in Grade 12 has stayed with me forever. Hundreds will gather on Dec. 18 at Cambridge Street United Church to honour his life, I’m guessing they, too, will be remembering the lessons in kindness, humility, decency and compassion that they learned from Mr. Auger.