This first weekend of May is going to mark the fifth anniversary of Bruce Peterson’s death.
For many of us, the first person we know that has passed away was a beloved pet or one of our grandparents. I’m pretty sure no one would think that a teacher close to us was the first person that has passed away. Well, this was the case for me with Bruce Peterson.
If my memory serves me right, Bruce Peterson was born in California in 1945. I still remember a black-and-white picture of his dog on a Californian beach from his childhood.
Like many young Americans at that time, Bruce escaped the Vietnam War draft by coming to Canada.
After settling in Montreal, Bruce put his passion for teaching to good use by becoming an English teacher at Collège Marie de France in the 1970s. He was not only good in English, but he was also fluently multilingual. He was able to speak, read, and write in English, French, German, and Greek, to name a few.
Bruce had a passion for animals, literature, arts, and movies. He had a stack of books lying on the floor of his apartment. He was dedicated to the learning of others to the point of teaching after his retirement. He offered lessons for both children and adults.
My mom and I first sought his tutoring back in 2013, when I was in sixth grade. The learning of languages wasn’t a smooth ride in my childhood. This is why Bruce offered lessons to me in both English and French.
We held our meetings at a dining place in a mall in downtown Montreal. You could tell from our first meeting that Bruce was no typical teacher.
We would always give me movies to watch and then write a summary about it. Movies were generally about topics we like (e.g. animals, monsters, dragons). Thanks to him, I was able to fulfill some of my cultural knowledge about children’s movies.
I have to admit that I occasionally struggled with writing. Nonetheless, during our time together, I was able to learn from my mistakes and improve in both French and English. I continued to improve even after our last meeting.
I took lessons with Bruce for almost two years. Sadly, at the end of April 2015, Bruce was feeling particularly ill. One week later, Bruce sends an email to my mother advising her that that class would be cancelled due to him having the “stomach flu.” This was the last time we would ever hear from him. He sadly passed away a few days later at the age of 70.
To say that his death was shocking would be an understatement. It was a big surprise to all of us since not only had he become a close family friend to us, he was also getting a new house in Deux-Montagnes, about to take in many new students. He had a promising future that was cut short by the cruel reality of life.
I would always remember Bruce as someone kind, wise, passionate, and occasionally funny. Without his lessons, without his teaching, I don’t think I would even be attending Vanier today.
I wouldn’t even be writing for this newspaper, pursuing my dream to write a book or considering a career in teaching and education.
Not only was Bruce my teacher, but he was also my mentor. He taught me manners, patience, humility, and shared with me tons of anecdotes. Bruce also gave me advice on how to raise my two cats for the first time. He was a role model for the many students who have been under his wing for the past 40 years and for me.
What makes Bruce’s story particularly sad is what I still fear to this day. Bruce was never married and never had children. He dedicated his entire life to the learning of others. In the end, Bruce died in his flat, alone, with no family at his side. This unwillingly kickstarted my fear of living a life with no partner or children by my side.
It has been five years since Bruce passed away. Five years that feel more like five months.
Bruce, if you are listening from wherever you are, I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the countless times we spend together. Thank you very much for your lessons and for setting me a path that I’m still walking on. Thank you for giving me the possibility to shine in writing. Thank you for everything that you have done for my family and for me! Your lessons are not going in vain anytime soon. You have effectively sowed the seeds that you would lead and help the future generation. Thank you on behalf of all your students for your exceptional contribution to society.
By Jacques Wang