NOTE:  Those who did not know John Ricker might remember the movie Goodbye Mr. Chips which
was a farewell to a beloved teacher.  This is the same thing.

Alan Skeoch
Sept. 24, 2022


Marvi Ricker with guests at memorial to John Ricker

Time line for John Ricker

1923   born
1933     10 years old
1943     20 years old ..RCAF, tail gunner, bomber command
1953     30 years old …history teacher, Parkdale C.I.
1963     40 years old…professor,  Faculty ofEducation, U. of , when I first met John
1978     Marvi and John’s marriage
2011     87 years old….created the Castlefield Institute…John’s last class, 
then on Auust 7,  2023,
John Ricker died…99 years old, his last class was over but not forgotten

We Said farewell to John Ricker on September 24, 2022, at the Faclultu Club of the University of Toronto.  It was a wonderful farewell with
John’s family injecting a lot of energy into this final goodbye including a half dozen or more of children aged 10 or less.  No tears.  Just
a feeling of admiration of John’s life orchestrated by his wife Marvi .

John Rickers’ three daughters with Alan Skeoch at the Faulty Club

For a month I edited my speech for that occasion.  How could I put John’s life into a five minute time slot?   There were many
people who wanted to do the same thing and I was the ‘closer’ like Romano of the Bluejays.  So here are the pants I wanted to express.

1)  Bismarck once said that “You can do anything with children if you just play with them.”  John Ricker did this with humour , respect, intelligence and boundless
energy.  Those he taught were groomed as lifelong teachers.  John was succinct . He would throw out an opening comment…often as a question…and then join the fray
of ‘Civil discussion’ which was John’s term for good teaching.  Today, were John still alive, he might open a class by saying  “Democracy is in mortal danger
it seems.  Can democracy survive?”

2) I noted in my previous episode that John commanded respect.   Good teaching only occurs when the teacher is respected.  Without respect little 
learning happens.

Here we see some of the joy John Ricker injected into our lives

3)  John Wardle and John Ricker created the Castlefield Institute ten years ago.  This was John Ricker’s last class, a decade long classroom.  We met
at his house once a month,  Who were we?  A cross section of people.  A judge, a publisher, a politician, three professors, a half dozen teachers,
four winners of the Order of Canada, one winner of the Governor Genersl’s award.
a bunch of friends, Marvi on occasion…and one little with dog called Montesqjuieu.  The dog was allowed to dominate.  Actually Monty was a pain
in the ass.  He barked every time one of us spoke forcing us to tailor our comments.  Monty was silent when John spoke.  Monty made sure no one
got garrulous.
John justified Monty’s presence by saying he had more respect for ‘four legged creatures than he had for most of the two legged kind’.
That remark was typical.  Ricker could be very funny.  Also truthful.  I think he thought that little white dog had a higher intelligence than the rest of us.
Monty, by the way, also stole our sandwiches when he could.  John saw nothing when that happened. Just grinned.  John was capable of 
spoiling children…or was it forgiving indiscretions.

“I respect four legged creature more than the two legged kind.” (John Ricker)

We were all aware that the Castlefield Institute would be John’s last class.  A fact that became more and more apparent as the years passed 
by.  But meetings were very cheerful..  Silly at times.  Thoughtful occasionally.  Stupid occasionally like the time
I asked what the group thought about the possible election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.  “That will never happen…the
people of the United States are not that stupid.”  Well, it did happen as you know and  the consequences of that election came the subject
of a lot of our discussions.  “Democracy is a troubled spirit whose dream presents only visions of hell”  In short we discussed populism and 
government by the lowest common denominator.  How arrogant of us.  But remember we were all friends freely expressing our ideas with no expectations
that anyone gave a damn other than our little circle and one little white dog.  We laughed a lot.  Laughter is a kind of therapy. 

“What I really like about the group is that not one of them has anything to prove or any particular brief to be argued or pursued. They are all just good people who like to talk about anything that interests them or, indeed, anyone else. And no one is worried about fall-out or similar meaningless nonsense”  (John Ricker).

4)  John was a voracious and thoughtful reader of non fiction up until he died. A skilled reader.  Back when I did short stories on CBC Radio, my Producer Doug Coupar
cornered me after my first few broadcasts. “Alan, those stories were good,” (What was his next word?) “BUT,  the radio audience has a one minute attention span… get
your big idea out fast.”   How does this connect to John Ricker, you ask?  John could read a 300 page book and winnow it down to a one sentence comment for us to 
consider.  Fitted our one minute attention spans. 

 We had so much fun at those meetings even though the end was approaching.

5)  Then Covid 19 crippled the world in 2020.  And public meetings ceased for a time.  But we kept going as best we could.  Masked.  Then we turned to ZOOM which
was a terrible alternative to meeting face to face.  John hated Zoom.  He wanted our laughter, our outrageous comments…our flesh and blood presence…the classroom.
Those poor kids who now rely on Zoom for their education.  Push the ‘off air’ button for gog’s sake,  Thankfully we had John’s backyard and could yell at each other  there.

6)  John Ricker, like most gifted people,  did not boost himself.  I never remember him saying anything about his job as a highly placed administrater except that it was
a ‘poor substitute for teaching.’   Not necessarily true.  But the comment made me feel good and changed my career path.

Handley Page Halifax – Bomber Command Museum of Canada
Halifax bomber

C-GVRA (KB726) Avro Lancaster B.10 rear gun turret. | Flickr
Lancaster bomber tail gunner turret

7)   John Ricker said very little about his RCAF experience.  Just a few fragments over the years.  His father was shocked when John volunteered 
as a tail gunner on a bomber.   His father was a pacifist and wanted John to fall into line.  John, however, said, “I could not stand idly by when all my friends were joining 
the war effort.”  :After 1945 John said little about those war years.   He did tell me two things.   

“I don’t like to talk about the war because I survived where many of my high school friends did not.”  (John Ricker)

His second comment I will never forget.  I had written a story about my cousin George Freeman’s death as a mid upper gunner 
on a Halifax bomber in 1944.  (HX 313) .  John sent me a note,  It is a definition of FEAR.  I will always picture
John scrunched up in that plastic glass bubble at the back of a bomber with machine guns that were almost useless just waiting for
a German night fighter to open up on him.  

“Alan, my stomach was a ball bearing and a bead of sweat at my neck became a river down my backside.”  (John Ricker)

8)  John Ricker died on August 7, 2022.  He was 99 years old.  He was content.  He was not alone. 

 How many of you know Bill Withers?  I would like
to conclude my remarks using Bill Withers.  And I expect you to join me…to repeat after me.  Loud and clear and heartfelt.  Are you ready?

“Ain’t no sunshine.”
“AIN’T NO SUNSHINE,”  (Faculty Club audience, Sept. 24, 2022)

“Now John’s gone.”


Marvi tells me that John was a grammarian.  So let me change the words a bit.


Alpha and Omega

(Alan Skeoch, speech at John Ricker memorial, Sept. 24, 2022)

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