Music. Humour. Involvement. Commitment. The belief that life’s troubles can be either stumbling blocks or stepping stones.
Vic Knox enrolled in the commercial class of Barrie’s only high school in 1929. And 49 years later he capped a 42 year teaching career that saw him walk off the stage at Barrie Central and head into retirement. On December 1 he went to his ultimate retirement after a three-year battle with Alzheimers Disease, just 19 days after being moved from his home to LeisureWorld care centre. He was 87.
*For a man whose life affected, and infected, literally thousands of Barrie students, to have to turn over his mind to this disease was the ultimate irony.
Vic Knox has left this community richer, more passionate, more committed, more creative than it would ever have been had he not graced us with his presence.
After a stint in the Army, Vic added a university degree to his Normal School teaching certificate, and arrived at Barrie Central Collegiate in September, 1946. At first he taught a variety of courses, settling on Geography and then into Guidance where he became head of the department until becoming vice principal.
*Vic married a teacher, too, the lovely Jean from Stratford, ON and they moved into the upper floor apartment of another Central teacher, Florence McDougall.
*In those days the Guidance department handled everything from class schedules to individual student issues to parent/teacher concerns as well as career planning and Vic used his vast classroom experience when he moved to the Guidance office.
But it was his passion for music that took Central over the top. In those days Central students mounted a major Broadway musical every two years and Vic Knox believed that students should have the major roles in the production, but that minor roles on stage, behind stage, directing and producing should involve the teaching staff. It made for fabulous student/teacher interraction which often made a huge difference for a student.
John McBride remembers joining the Central staff and being not too impressed with his new boss. “Every day at last bell, he’d take off,” remembers John. “I thought ‘what kind of guy is this to not be here when students need him’.” And then John discovered that Vic Knox was alive and well, directing the upcoming production of Brigadoon, an ambitious undertaking in 1966. Vic would be there until the evening hours, working with kids to put together the pit orchestra, the staging, lighting, technical support and performers. He and Principal Alec Cockburn worked tirelessly on this effort. Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, as well as Gilbert & Sullivan shows all hit the stage at Central, enhancing the lives of the students and teachers who worked on them.
*John says that Vic Knox was perfectly suited to his work. “Vic stands for contentment, efficiency, energy, humour, all those things that make a person terrific to work with and for. Vic stands out as a perfect fir for a career niche.”
When Vic retired from Central in 1978, the entire community turned out and produced something out of the final scene in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus. On stage renditions by former students, summed up every musical Vic took part in; gifts, speeches, tears, and Vic retired amid applause to pursue his other hobbies.
An original member of Jean Dobson’s King Edward Choir, Vic’s baritone voice, the high range of the base section, anchored many a production. Fellow songster Peter Mills remembers Vic as “the life of the choir, in a way. He had such great spirit and his great sense of humoured showed particularly at our annual meetings.” He had to drop out a few years ago when his memory and hearing were failing.
And how many people count 77 years as membership in ANYTHING? Collier United Church was on the receiving end of Vic’s energy for all but 10 years of his life. There’s a hole today in the activities of that church, especially its choir, without Vic Knox.
Barrie Lions Club. Vic gave all his skills to Lions meetings with his good friend and fellow teacher Bill Bell. Bill played the piano, Vic lead the singsongs; it was a given.
Vic gave 19 years to the Barrie Library Board, spearheading the addition to the original Carnegie building in the mid 60’s. He was committed to the importance of a good library to a community and served under many chairmen.
Vic’s able partner in his Barrie contributions is his wife, Jean. She remains in the house they built in 1951, and Jean remembers well pushing their baby stroller up gravelled Sunnidale Rd, where their lot was carved out of Goldie’s Apple Orchard, just before the bridge over Highway 400. A new house, and Vic helped the builders all summer, just because he could. Many teachers built nearby, Rory & Meg O’Donal, Allen Fisher, Norm Synnott, Joan Morris, Jack McCaw.
Vic’s contribution to Barrie is legion, that’s for sure. Jean says before his illness, they couldn’t go anywhere without being approached again and again… “Hi Mr. Knox, remember me? You taught me in 1951. or 1965. or 1968. or 1954.” Students remembered. Vic had an impact.
Today, Vic’s life is lived through his two children, Jane, a music teacher in Melbourne, Australia; and Ian, a community programmer with Rogers Cable in Toronto. And grandchildren, Matthew and Mia.
A life. A star. A glow.