Dick Pugh“Bonjour, mes amis!” Those were the words that greeted our Grade Seven classroom that early September day in 1968 when Monsieur Pugh strode into our first French class. Little did I know, the first time I encountered the sandy-haired recent arrival from England that he would have an impact on my life that continues to this day.

I quickly discovered that I loved learning French. When I think about it now, I probably would have enjoyed anything this man taught. (Well, he would have had to work hard to get me to enjoy math…) I don’t quite know why I felt the connection with him that I did. Perhaps it was because I felt he truly valued my abilities and my contribution. That was so important for a kid who usually felt as though she was on the outside looking in. I didn’t really fit in with most of the others in my class, but I knew somehow that Monsieur Pugh accepted me for who I was, and encouraged me to be the best “who I was” that I could be.

When we learned, in Grade Nine, that Mr. Pugh was going to teach a Drama Class with our class as the initial “trial” class, I was delighted. I had spent my life pretending, and putting myself into roles of one sort or another, directing my friends in various re-enactments of television programs — acting was right up my alley.

Here again, I so appreciated Mr. Pugh’s guidance and encouragement. In retrospect, the lessons went far beyond learning to mime, to apply stage make-up, to recite a Shakespearean soliloquy (although I can still declaim “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promised…”), even beyond the mechanics of writing and staging a play (our group’s play was chosen — and as I recall, I had a fair bit of input into the writing of that play, as well as a major — although rather odd — role in the production).

From this talented and enthusiastic man, I learned to work through the nervousness and perform despite it. This applies in so many aspects of life! I learned to value my own gifts and use them. I learned how much it means to a young person to know that a respected adult believes in them wholeheartedly. And I learned the importance of the arts in kids’ lives, and how much difference participating in theatre can make in a young person’s life.

These learnings and beliefs inform what I do here on my blog in support of the arts, what I do in my personal life in support of kids having opportunities in theatre and other forms of the arts, and in my writing, which largely centers on kids involved in theatre. I owe Mr. Pugh so much!

Mr. Pugh left our school at the end of the year I was in Grade Nine, and I missed him very much. It shows how highly our whole class thought of him that he was asked to be the guest speaker at Grade Twelve Graduation. I believe it shows that he held our class in equally high esteem that he traveled all the way from Winnipeg, Manitoba to share in our 25th reunion some years ago.

I was delighted one morning not too long ago to discover a Facebook friend request from Dick Pugh — after all these years, he and I have connected again, and I am so grateful.

Over the years, every December 17th, I have thought of this man who made such a difference in my life. Today, because of Facebook, I get to share those thoughts with him.

Happy birthday, Mr. Pugh! May your day and your life be filled with love, laughter, and the joys of the theatre!

Thank you so much.

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