String of Pearls

By Kelly Greene

When John Scattergood graciously agreed to be recognized as another ‘pearl’ for my “String of Pearls” I couldn’t help but be delighted by his unusual name. After all, it had been his reputation as a volunteer that had precipitated our meeting which, incidentally, was now taking place in the charming alcove of a kitchen overlooking Beacon Hill Park.

Answering my query John admitted that his paternal grandmother had initiated an investigation that revealed a Scattergood had surfaced in Normandy in the thirteenth century. “And thence to England. While I was in the Navy I used to research the directories in every port. The name occurred most often in Sydney, Australia.” He paused, with a glint in his eye. “That is where the convicts ended up, wasn’t it?”

John was seventeen when the Venture Plan was being offered to train short service naval officers, most of whom became pilots. “At that time it was possible to ‘rent’ air space over the sound between Victoria and Port Angeles so that I could practice my maple leafs (as the boys called them) with no more risk to anyone than my own possible ducking.” After two years John returned to academia, enrolling in agriculture economics at McDonald College, (McGill University). His subsequent employment in a farming co-op in Toronto was meant to finance further study. Fate decided otherwise. The Co-op’s personnel department encouraged him to take another promising opportunity, which he did and thus joined a large firm specializing in business forms.

John prospered. A promotion to Marketing Director came with a transfer to Ottawa and, perhaps reminiscent of his early rural upbringing, John opted to buy a hobby farm in the Ottawa Valley. This was an exciting 13 acres, with the requisite variety of animal inhabitants. Country living he felt sure would be a good experience for his family, now augmented by two children, and thus it proved to be. His rural neighbours, many of them long-time settlers, “took them in”. They enjoyed eight happy years.

In 1978 John requested a transfer to Victoria where the firm currently lacked presence. In proper business attire he would attend his affairs as usual except his office was just a flight of stairs away in their home on Beach Drive. When sixty, he retired.

Victoria, however, was where the even tenure of their lives was cruelly interrupted. After three years of desperate medical intervention, John and Linda lost their fifteen-year-old son. As happens to certain receptive individuals a tragedy can be transforming. When John attended the counselling offered by the cancer clinic for the bereaved, he attended in every sense of the word as he absorbed how active, compassionate listening was key to providing solace. Finally, he said, “I can do this.” For twenty years John volunteered for shifts on the Victoria Crisis Line. “An incredible experience” John told me, including in the experience those he worked with. “Perhaps only ten percent of the calls are suicidal, the others can be any number of things…Christmas, so traumatic for many, was hectic …four-hour shifts.” His long association with the Crisis Line may have ended when it became centralized in Nanaimo but John was still keen to be a positive influence wherever he found himself.

Having added aerobics to his gym routine by this time, he announced: “I could teach this,” and told his wife, who agreed. Already an instructor herself Linda encouraged him to take the training through the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association and for a number of years he led evening classes at Henderson, Gordon Head, etc. When assaulted with his own back pain he took a six weeks’ course in the self-management of chronic pain. Each year for the past eleven he has offered a couple of six-week courses teaching the techniques that allow through practical changes in routine to improve the quality of afflicted lives. Favourable testimonials having brought him to the attention of Dr. McGowan, Professor of Gerontology at the University of Victoria, John has been invited a number of times to speak to the students.

His propensity to involve himself in good works was not deterred by borders. John and Linda also spent seventeen years wintering in Arizona after his retirement. While Linda pursued her passion for artwork (there is a charming rendition of a baby bluebird in the kitchen alcove of which her husband is fond), John was intrigued with unique opportunities to volunteer. For several years he parried queries from visitors to an old west fortification for Arizona Tourism. And when the protectionist program for ancient cave drawings was funded (apparently inspired by a televised program from British Columbia) he went out into the desert to intermittently visit the three sites he had been assigned, to report on their condition. And then, there was the Arizona SPCA needing ‘walkers’. Though of modest stature John is fit and fearless. Taking a pit bull for a walk was de rigueur. He credits having been sensitized by his own dog’s emotional range for “never being bitten, or even threatened” by any of his ‘clients”.

But active volunteering is just one aspect of this thoughtful man’s distillation of what life should be all about: kindness. His sympathies possibly aroused to the plight of the rural Philippine children he saw during his naval training, John adopted more than one child through World Vision (1971). A Filipino girl he kept in touch with for eight years, a boy from Kenya, and two or three others. Not only did he offer monthly financial assistance for their education but he wrote to the children. And the children wrote back. And he has kept their letters. His regret is that World Vision discourages correspondence beyond sixteen years. “The boy was proud he is now making bricks and selling them to earn his living. I would really like to know how he gets on….”

As an afterthought John tells me he has a pin from the Royal BC Museum entitling him to free admission for the rest of his life. Apparently after volunteering to inform visitors at different stations for ten years one is thus rewarded! Still active with James Bay New Horizons, John was scheduled to “give a little talk at the Friday Forum this week”. Not yet is he willing to give up expending his time, his talent for teaching, his boundless enthusiasm for living—the goodness of his nature—to benefit all and sundry. Pearls here and there - scattered.

I finally asked John if he had checked the Victoria directory for his surname. He replied, “Oh yes. One man who responded with an invitation to meet opened his door when I knocked,” John paused “And I saw my father.” Apparently, however, the common ancestor that they must have shared was never investigated.

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Then and Now: The Glenshiel Hotel

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