On the passing of Peter Smith, a tribute.
ABOVE MY DESK, WITHIN EASY REACH, IS MY UVIC BIBLE. A Multitude of the Wise: UVic Remembered was given to me the week I came to work at the university in 1997. It’s been my trusted companion ever since.
Ample evidence of its value may be found in the dozens of sticky notes that it has sprouted like little yellow dog ears. Most of them are cryptically labeled—according to an editor’s hurried, unscientific methods—for future reference.
One of the first notes marks page 31 and says simply, in pencil: “Pearse” for Benjamin W. Pearse who died in 1902 and left $10,000 to establish a post-secondary school in Victoria, where none had existed at the time. I placed that post-it when we were working a story to mark the centennial of higher education in this city.
Or there’s the note marked “E.B. Paul,” for the founding principal of Victoria College. We used an archive photo of him sitting in his garden, marking papers, on the cover of the first issue of the Torch that I edited. I had spotted the photo in another section of the book.
The last note that I’ve stuck in my copy of Multitude of the Wise isn’t labeled at all. It’s on a page that discusses the university’s inaugural year of classes, when 125 full-time teachers were listed in the 1963-64 course calendar (compared to the current roster of nearly 800 professors).
One of those first faculty members was a hometown gentleman, an alumnus of Victoria College, a classicist who had gone off to attain his doctorate from Yale. He was Peter L. Smith.
There would be many, many ways that he would have his impact on campus life over the next four decades and more. He was a teacher (first and foremost), administrator, stage actor, translator, tour guide, basketball supporter, family man and dog master.
He was also an unofficial historian and the author of Multitude of the Wise. He kept meticulous history files and biographies on all that was the story of UVic, Victoria College and Victoria High School.
When he died from a stroke this summer, it came as a bitter shock. Although he was well into his retirement years, he remained active in the life of the university. Most recently he was a tremendous help as the members of the Victoria College Craigdarroch Castle Alumni Association developed and launched their new Web site. He was their go-to-guy for historical facts, from biographies to mailing lists.
And now we take stock of what’s left. We have his wonderful book about UVic (in addition to his others, like the most recent one on the history of flight in Victoria). We also have stacks of text, the 360 photos and the oral history tapes that he left in the highly capable hands of the staff of UVic Archives.
What’s lost to the university community is the witty, deep link to our history that Peter Smith gave us along with his collegiality.
This edition of our magazine is dedicated to him.