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Albert Edward Ottewell

By J. M. MacEachran

I know that you who have come to this service to pay your tribute of affection and respect to the memory of the late Albert Edward Ottewell will pardon me if what I say on this occasion is confined mainly to my personal knowledge of him gained from my association with him in the University of Alberta, where during the past 37 years I knew him as a student, colleague, and friend. And here may I acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr. E. T. Mitchell, fellow-student and life-long friend of Mr. Ottewell, for his kindness in permitting me to read notes which he has made from conversations with him during the last days of his illness. As these were, for the most part, dictated by Mr. Ottewell himself, they have served to confirm as well as to add to the impressions which, during my long association with him, I have formed of the personality and achievements of the man we honor today.

Mr. Ottewell was a member of the first graduation class in 1912 and, from that year until he was stricken with the distressing illness which cut short his life, he was a devoted servant of the University and of the larger community which it served. In the responsibilities which he assumed he was keenly aware of the opportunities for public service afforded him, and he was fortunate to live to see and enjoy many of the fruits of his labors. But he was a quiet-living modest man, content to leave to the impartial judgment of time any merits that might accrue to his credit or distinction. And so I feel that anything too much resembling a formal eulogy at this time would not be in keeping with the spirit of his life, and, accordingly, I shall limit myself to stating briefly some of those aspects of his personality and accomplishments which specially impressed themselves upon those who knew him best.

First of all, let me speak of Mr. Ottewell as a student. He was the first honors student in Classics, and did the major part of his work under Professor W. H. Alexander. He completed his B.A. degree with first-class honors, winning the first Chancellor’s gold medal then presented by the late Mr. Justice Stuart. He later completed his M.A. degree. He was a member of my first classes in Philosophy and, in the subsequent years of his under-graduate and graduate work, took several courses in my department. Older members of the staff and of the student body recall those early years with great satisfaction and often not without emotion. We, staff and students, lived and worked together under the inspiring creative leadership of our first President, Dr. Tory. We were united by bonds of friendship which grew out of a common, all-absorbing interest — that of building up in a new Province an institution of higher learning bearing as its inspiriting motto, Quaecumque Vera — an ideal which we hope will in the course of time suffer no serious diminution in the significance attached to it in those days of pioneering enthusiasm.

What I have to say of Mr. Ottewell as a student in Philosophy will, I think, be in accord with the judgment formed of him by his other Professors as well as by his classmates. He embarked upon his studies with an enthusiasm and vigor that brings joy to a teacher and life to the class-room. In the early years of the University, when classes were small, it was possible to give much time to the informal discussion of the technical aspects and the more practical applications of one’s subject to the problems of every-day life. I shall always remember Mr. Ottewell, the student, as a young man who was ever willing and eager to follow an argument wherever it led. He did not hesitate to question traditional beliefs or his own ideas and predilections and to modify or discard them whenever he felt certain that he had discovered something better or more promising. And as in his various studies he grew in knowledge, he grew in understanding — the understanding of life, its meaning and its destiny.

From the beginning, Mr. Ottewell played a prominent part in student organizations and student activities. He was the second President of the Students’ Union, the first Editor-in-Chief of "The Gateway," and Chairman of the first Student Committee which assumed the responsibility of supervising the practice of democratic government in the University Residences. In all these responsible positions he stood for standards worthy of an Institution which he believed served as the centre of the intellectual and spiritual enlightenment of the Province. His maturity of judgement, his understanding of student problems, his tolerant spirit, and his broad human outlook made it possible for him, along with his associates, to create traditions which have been enduring in their influence, and a source of satisfaction to those graduates who look back on those early years of student life. Mr. Ottewell was a member of the first Rugby team. Reflecting on his accomplishments as a Rugby player, he stated that he always hoped that his size and strength would make up for his ignorance of the game. As my memory serves me, however, he was both literally and figuratively a tower of strength to the team which first won the Provincial Championship. It was an indication of his interest in the game and of his continued sympathy with student life that he has scarcely ever missed a major Rugby match in which the University was competing.

After graduating in 1912, Mr. Ottewell was appointed Secretary of the University Extension. The idea of University Extension and its place in a modern university as envisaged by Dr. Tory was brought to fulfillment by the energy, enthusiasm, and organizing ability of its Secretary, who, early and late, in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of roads, travelled up and down the country in his Ford car well stocked with University Calendars, bringing the University to the people, and incidentally recruiting students. Mr. Ottewell came from the country, and always manifested a deep sympathy for the rural population in the innumerable difficulties of the early years of Western life. Knowing from his own experience the value of a University education, he strove earnestly to bring the cultural advantages that such an education afforded, to the community at large. In his effort to attain this ideal, he was fortunate in having as his associates men and women who were actuated by the same ideal and enthusiasm as himself. The result was that the Extension Department soon became a very important part of the life of the University, much appreciated by the public, and admired by visitors from near and far. It became, in fact, a model for the organization of similar departments in other Canadian Universities. It is, accordingly, not too much to say that the Extension Department in its original organization, and its later remarkable development in scope and influence will always be a monument to the sincerity and devotion to public service of its first Secretary, who later became its first Director.

In 1928 Mr. Ottewell resigned as Director of the Department of Extension to fill the position of Registrar of the University, vacated by the death of Mr. Cecil Race. His knowledge of the Province and his experience in meeting the public gave him special qualifications for that office. The Registrar of the University is often in the unhappy position of having to administer numerous regulations and rulings, many of which he has little or no part in making, and the task is by no means always easy. Mr. Ottewell, however, performed the duties of this office with patience and understanding, always carrying with him the loyalty of an efficient staff and the respect of students and faculty alike.

Mr. Ottewell’s educational interests and activities extended far beyond those determined by his duties in the University. Unable to enlist in active service in the first Great War on account of defective eyesight, he joined a Forestry Battalion in 1916, from which, however, he was released to campaign for the Red Cross and the Patriotic Fund. Later on, he was called by Dr. Tory, President of the Khaki University Overseas, to join the staff of that organization, and did very valuable work in arranging lectures for the soldiers in England and France until the end of hostilities and during the period of demobilization. Since 1927, he has served continuously as a member of the Edmonton School Board and has several times been its Chairman. The appreciation of the citizens of Edmonton of his services is indicated by the fact that, at the last election and several times before, he was elected at the head of the poll. He was an active member of the Alberta School Trustees Association of which he was Past-President. He was also a member of the Canadian School Trustees Association, and was, during the past year, its President.

Mr. Ottewell’s valuable contribution to the work of all these organizations was inspired by an abounding confidence in the efficacy of education in the building of character and the enrichment of the cultural life of the community. He made no sharp distinction between so-called practical knowledge and other forms of knowledge, sometimes regarded as extraneous or even useless. All forms of knowledge he recognized as practical in as much as they serve to develop human faculties and to enlarge human interests and activities. The object of education, he believed, was not merely to enable one better to earn a living but to enable one better to earn a life worth living, and that means that no human potentialities must be neglected or depreciated.

In the attainment of what Mr. Ottewell envisaged as the larger spiritual ideal, he believed that Fraternal Organizations made a very valuable contribution. He was active in a number of such organizations, but among them he placed the Church first and Free Masonry second in their sphere of influence. From early years he was a consistent participant in the life and work of the Church, serving many years as a teacher in the Sunday School, and later, as an Elder. At the time of his death he was a Senior Elder in the Metropolitan Church. The Masonic Order appealed to him on account of the fact that its membership was open to all who were respected members of their community and accepted for their guidance in life certain beliefs which were in harmony with the fundamental teachings of Christianity. At the time of his death, he was Deputy Grand Master, and I am sure his brothers in that Fraternity will deeply regret that he did not live to attain the highest position of honor, that of Grand Master, an honor that I personally know he would have greatly appreciated.

Mr. Ottewell was a man of deep religious convictions. The influence of his early family training, when reading of the Bible and devotional religious exercises were part of every-day life, always remained deeply ingrained in his personality. The Christian belief in the Divine Government of the World, and the spiritual potentialities of the life of the individual in the whole scheme of creation was confirmed, clarified, and deepened by his studies in Greek Literature and Greek Philosophy. The humanism, directness, and intellectual clarity of the Greek Poets, Historians, and Philosophers made him deeply conscious of the necessity of a more effective form of religious education for leaders and followers alike within the Christian world of influence. The searching mind of a Socrates, he believed, was needed to reveal the true message of the Great Prophets and of the teachings of Jesus who, he always believed, stood supreme among the great religious leaders of the world. It was his conviction that, if religion is to exercise its maximum influence in the life of the individual, the community, and the world at large, it must rise above the confused medley of creeds, sects, and cults which at present divide it, and speak with the clarity and persuasiveness of one voice, certain of its credentials. And this, in the last analysis, belongs to the larger sphere of educational effort involving the most serious study of the fundamentals of life, and the continuous contemplation of the values it offers. Mr. Ottewell firmly believed that the world, in spite of appearances sometimes to the contrary, presents abundant evidences of the wisdom, beauty, and goodness of creation, to know and to live in harmony with which is man’s true spiritual destiny. He was equally firm in his conviction that, in the rational scheme of Creation, there is certain provision for the conservation of spiritual values, realized or potential, in the lives of human individuals. In this faith he lived and laboured; in this faith he calmly waited for death to claim him. When death came finally, it came as his friend.

Today the University and the whole community deeply regret the loss of a man of integrity and worth, who has served them so faithfully and well. But those who knew him more intimately mourn the loss of a much valued friend, kind and considerate at all times, and ever willing to lend a helping hand in time of need.

To Mrs. Ottewell, whose gentle kindly soul and loving companionship have been such an inspiration throughout his career, and such a sustaining comfort to him during his long illness, the final snapping of the ties which bound them together as one will be specially painful. To her we express our heart-felt sympathy and the sincere hope that Time, in its kindly ministration to those who mourn, will hasten the healing of her wounds. May many happy memories of a beautiful companionship and worthy achievements lighten her sorrow and restore her in spirit to pick up the broken threads, and find happiness in the future, as she has found it in the past, in a life of usefulness and friendly associations, inspired by the faith of her late husband in the eternal preservation of human worth within the realm of spiritual achievement.

Published October 1946.

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