UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Autumn 2003,
Volume 25, Number 1

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Photo UVIC ARCHIVES 054.0805
The Clearihue family home in the 1890s-that's Joe in the middle, on the rocking horse.

"We were a small group so we had to take part of the high school life at that time," Joe recalled in his memoirs. " I remember playing grass hockey with the girls, and that their long dresses were effective. If the ball came to them and they wished to stop it, all they did was bend slightly at the knee and their skirts became ground level backstops."

Hard work earned classroom rewards, but tragedy at home would force Joe to temporarily postpone his studies after that first year at Victoria College. "I was very anxious to go to Vancouver and enter the sophomore year at Vancouver College, which was also affiliated with McGill University. But I had no money and my father was at that time not in good health. So as soon as our examinations were completed in April, I sought work to help me along. I did some coaching during the evenings and was first employed in the Victoria Daily Times canvassing for subscribers. This I did until I had canvassed the whole city. I then secured employment with the Twentieth Century Shorthand Company. This continued until the Christmas season. I had enrolled in the meantime with Vancouver College and got permission to study at home."

When Joseph Sr. passed away, Joe was left to support his mother, sister and brother. Eventually he made enough to continue to McGill, but the crisis made him appreciate college life that much more. "He always encouraged students to make the best of their days in the lecture room, as well as on the playing field and in the common room," recalls his daughter Joyce, a retired dermatologist who also attended Victoria College. "The entire experience of seeking an education, and the knowledge about life that comes with it, was very important to him. He knew he was lucky."

He graduated from McGill in 1911 and became the first Victoria-born Rhodes Scholar, using the opportunity at Oxford University to study civil law. Again, his coursework would be interrupted, this time by the onset of World War I. A commission to the Fifth Regiment of the Canadian Coast Artillery in 1914 did not sidetrack his love of learning.

Fellow serviceman Archie H. Wills recalled Joe's ability to give his soldiers an intellectual escape from the war. "Lieut. Clearihue made a special effort to see that the men did not become frustrated with the drabness of life in barracks. He held special classes at night, lecturing on the many phases of civilian life."

In the trenches of France, Joe witnessed the brutality of war. "I will never forget the first time I saw our dead in the field: a young boy, lying on his back in a shell hole, clutching a testament issued to the ranks, knowing he was dying and praying to his loved ones." Joe narrowly evaded his own death during one particular raid, when "a shell fell on the edge of the hole I was sleeping in, throwing a beam at my feet and covering me with earth. But I was safe." Good Old Joe, as his soldiers called him, was awarded the Military Cross for distinguished service.

After the war, the scholarly soldier completed his master's at Oxford. He had met his bride, Irene, who was one of the first women to enrol in the London Hospital. She became a doctor and the couple came home to Victoria. Joe began his law career and built an impressive record of public service: elections to Victoria city council and the BC legislature; an appointment as a county court judge; and, from 1947 to 1963, the chairmanship of the Victoria College Council.

All along his career path, closest to his heart was student life and the need to bring a university to his hometown. When he retired from the bench in 1962, the 75-year-old had only one thought, recorded in his memoirs: "On that day I stated that I would do everything I could to have Victoria College created into a full university."

"My father felt that a university in Victoria was essential," says Joyce. "He really felt that everybody who could get an education really should, and Victoria was the perfect spot. I think he always knew he'd return to this goal."

He had a particular knack for drafting legislation. He authored the 1954 bill creating the Victoria College Foundation, which enabled the college to manage gifts and other funds received in trust (including the $10,000 bequeath from Benjamin Pearse revealed in 1902 but not received until his widow's death in 1952). He was also an architect of the Universities Act of 1963, which created the University of Victoria.

"He was a man whose shrewd political instincts were well honed by practical experience," wrote Peter Smith in his book on UVic's history, A Multitude of the Wise. "He would render incomparable and wide-ranging service to Victoria College and UVic."

Betty Kennedy, math professor emeritus, remembers working on rewrites of the universities act with him. "We used to meet in my living room in a house near Oak Bay. Someone would suggest something, and Joe would say, 'No, I don't see that, it's not the way it should be.' And then we'd finish the meeting and leave. At the next meeting he'd sit down and say, 'I've thought about what you suggested, it's not a bad idea, so I've drafted a section of the act.' This was a guy who retained so much flexibility and was always willing to consider people's opinions."

In the university archives, there is a small book containing a series of essays written about Joseph Badenoch Clearihue. Larry Devlin, a '60s-era president of the Alma Mater Society, wrote about being surprised by the chancellor's open-door policy. "He seemed to credit students with abilities other than those which outraged public opinion, and he asked for our support to build a university worthy of its great promise. It was my first real introduction to a man whose honesty, tolerance and dignity were to win him the respect of the students."

A student at heart, Joe returned to the classroom in September 1963. He joined childhood pal and fellow Victoria College alumnus Freddy Wood at the first official lecture at the University of Victoria. Interviewed that weekend, Wood explained his old friend's love for education: "Joe would be the first to admit that the happy days of 1903 and 1904 of Victoria College left their stamp upon him, giving him an appreciation for the enrichment of life through a good education."


Good Old Joe | Good Old Joe Con't

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