It’s weird how social connections work. I was reading Twitter today, and I saw someone talking about James Alan Gardner and Waterloo.
When I knew James Alan Gardner, he was just Jim Gardner, and he was one of the long-timers in FASS, the farcical theatre company at the University of Waterloo. I remember a writer’s session where Jim had written an act of our ’89 show (theme: FASS goes to hell). Jim had written a whole song about baseball to the tune of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” It was funny, with cute lines and great scansion. He’d slipped in references to oodles of famous ball teams. But one of the other FASS long-timers was right to point out that it was too long. And the final version that we staged used only a verse and a half.
Years later, I followed Jim’s writing career: I really liked, “Muffin Explains Teleology to the World at Large”, and later the Festina Ramos books. Then we saw each other, a few times, at the Trek conference and once at WorldCon, when it came to Toronto. If we ran in to each other, there’s probably a 50% chance he’d remember who I am.
Anyhoo. That set of tweet exchanges got me thinking about my days at Waterloo, and I was suddenly moved to look up my old residence. Waterloo had two forms of on-campus student residence. The first was “the villages”. Village 1 and Village 2 were these sprawling student residence buildings that attached themselves to the northwest corner of the campus.
I never lived in the villages, but I heard many stories. The “food” was a common topic.
Waterloo also had four affiliated colleges, known in those days as the “church colleges” because each of them was run by a different franchise of Christianity. The church colleges ran their own classes, and had modest-sized residence buildings. They touted their smaller class sizes and less institution-seeming residence experiences. First- and second-year math classes had over 100 students in each timeslot of each class, so the church college equivalent classes were considerably smaller.
Strictly speaking, I was a student at St. Jerome’s College, the Catholic church college, rather than Waterloo itself. I enrolled with them because they gave me a scholarship. Of the four colleges, St. Jerome’s was the one that specialized in math (Math and Engineering were the two departments that the University was known for). The premise was that I’d take classes at St. Jerome’s (when there was an offering), or at the main university (when there wasn’t) and at graduation time, they would go through some formal recommendation to the University proper, and University of Waterloo would issue me my degree.
In practice, I didn’t take any classes at St. Jerome’s: I was in a special stream of math that lead in to Pure Math, and we were a class of about 15 people (from the entire university) who were pretty much always in the same Math classes together. And because those classes were so small, there was only one offering of each, and the classrooms were on the main campus.
I took a handful of music classes that were all offered by Conrad Grebel College (the Mennonite church college), but other than those, all of my classes were on the main campus.
Things are different, now. The church residences have become fully accredited universities, and they issue their own degrees.
In my first term at Waterloo, I dormed at St. Jerome’s. I didn’t love St. Jerome’s. I made some good friends there, but there were also assholes. The frosh were hazed in the first week. There were loud parties.
Almost all of my former high school friends — most of my friends from Sarnia attended Waterloo — had dormed at Renison (the Anglican church college), so I switched there in my second term and then stayed at Renison throughout my second and third year. And finally, in fourth year, I realized that I’d lost my love for residence life and moved off campus.
Anyway. In addition to the various administrators of the college, there were two Anglican priests assigned there: Father David Hartry — in later years, Rev. Canon Hartry — was the Dean of the residence. His office was in the residence building where I lived for three years and I’d see him pretty much every day. I wouldn’t say that I knew Fr. Hartry well. He was easy-going and affable, and would reliably deal with any issues students would bring to him, but his relationships with the students weren’t deep. I respected him, but never really knew him.
The assistant Chaplain was a man named Father Keith Gleed, and I got to know him quite a bit better. Note the difference in how we referred to them: Father Hartry, versus Father Keith. Fr. Keith was actively doing outreach to the students. He wasn’t pushily religious; he was just very compassionate and seemed to care about the students.
I think that one of the things that warmed me to him, very early on, was his open and vocal pro-LGBT stance (although I think the ‘B’ and ‘T’ were silent in those days). He never discussed his own sexuality, but he was open about how his attitudes were considered heretical by his religious community. It’s easier to be pro-queer in a university setting, but it was still the mid-eighties, and he was a priest. I never discussed my queerness with him, but knowing where he stood meant a great deal to me.
He also had an interesting Puckish quality to him. He was prepared to shake things up or get into mischief. We got to know each other fairly well in the years I lived at Renison. When I was doing work terms in Toronto, we met up a couple of times for dinner when he had business in the city.
Here’s an interesting thing about Fr. Keith: an earlier posting for him had been Lakefield College School — a fancy-schmancy private school near Peterborough — and he was there in 1977 when HRH Prince Andrew attended the school for six months. Fr. Keith apparently got to know Prince Andrew fairly well — the two kept in contact, long after Prince Andrew returned to the UK. And the Prince has often claimed that his experience at Lakefield was life-altering.
I had started to live in Renison in May of 1986. I hadn’t realized that this had happened at the time, but Fr. Keith became one of six Canadians to be invited to Prince Andrew’s wedding to Sarah Ferguson in July of 1986. Some time later, Fr. Keith was telling stories to a gaggle of students in the “Moose Room” (an infrequently-used hang-out space with a fireplace and a giant stuffed moose head). Apparently, at the church, Elton John was in the row behind him, and someone else, equally famous, was a bit farther to his right. He had some knick-knacks — mementos of the event — that he was showing us.
Fr. Keith also told us a great story once: he’d been invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace. He got to go up to the front gates, and push his way through crowds of tourists, and say to the guard, “I’m on the list.” And after passing through the gates, with all those people behind him, stuck behind the checkpoint, he had this irresistible urge to turn around and pull a funny face at them all.
The last time I saw Fr. Keith was at my graduation ceremony. I bumped in to him, quite by accident. He was there with another student, and he’d recently had bypass surgery for a heart problem. He looked more subdued, more tired.
In 2001, I heard that Fr. Keith had passed away. Despite not having seen him in a decade, I was really quite profoundly saddened to learn that.
So, as I was perusing Renison’s web page, I was moved to do a quick Google on Father Keith, while absently wondering what he would have thought about all the recent awfulness around Prince Andrew.
Guess what? Father Keith? He’s a pedophile.
So that was a bit of a slap in the face.
There’s a saying about judging someone by the company they keep, and it’s alarming to me to reflect on the fact that he’s not the first person I’ve known who I later learned was a pedophile. The others, I’ve known fairly casually: one was the (somewhat distant) partner of someone I was close to; another was a Haiti activist whose work I admired, but I can’t say that I knew him well.
But I knew Fr. Keith. Or, I guess, I thought I knew him. And I think I’m just at the beginning of being really quite profoundly angry at him.
As I’m reflecting on this piece, I’m suddenly realizing that I’m spending a lot more paragraphs on the positive aspects of Fr. Keith than on the fact that he’s a pedophile. To some extent, I’m probably humanizing him in a way he doesn’t deserve.
But what I’m able to write about, with authority, is my experience of him. And my history of viewing him fondly makes the discovery of his inexcusable actions all the more angry-making. I think I’m trying to paint a picture of my whiplash. To capture that feeling.
The reality is that I thought I had a relationship with him that was important to me, and he’s sullied it. And clearly, those who survived his assaults had far worse experiences than what I’m describing, but those aren’t my story to tell.