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John Desmond Cousens Add to ...

Beloved family man, teacher, mentor, athlete, environmental scientist, nature lover, farrier, birder, musician. Born Nov. 5, 1944, in St. John’s. Died July 10, 2011, in St. John’s of a pulmonary embolism, aged 66.

Des Cousens was a good and gifted man. Intelligent, compassionate, strong and loyal, he had a large presence and boundless energy. He had many loves and interests: hiking, paddling a canoe, animals – especially horses, becoming a farrier who specialized in shoeing lame horses. A self-taught musician and mimic of accents, Des often entertained family and friends.

Born in November – a Scorpio to the bone with his passion and intensity – he had a competitiveness and natural athletic ability. The oldest of two sons of C.C. (Charlie) and Betty Cousens, Des excelled academically and at practically every sport. In his final year of high school, he won the Victor Ludorum Trophy, “winner of the games,” and was class valedictorian at graduation.

Des attended the 25th reunion of the class of 1962 of Prince of Wales College, where he again delivered his valedictorian speech to alumni and former teachers. At the reunion he reconnected with many former classmates, including Betty Wells, who became his wife one year later. Their son, Matthew, was born in 1989.

Des became a chemical engineer, earning a PhD, and taught at Nova Scotia Technical College and Dalhousie University. Teaching was his true passion, and he won several awards of excellence. Des marked and graded all his students’ assignments and exams himself. In 1987, he resigned from Dalhousie and joined the environmental group at Nova Scotia Power. After retiring, he established his own environmental science consulting firm, becoming an internationally respected environmental scientist and mentor to young co-workers and associates.

Des was a workaholic and perfectionist who lacked a sense of time. Deadlines were sometimes missed, but the quality of the work he produced was exceptional, often brilliant. Time management was a major challenge, resulting in chronic stress and sleep deprivation; he was unable to say “no” to anyone who asked for help.

His encounters with former students in his post-academic career demonstrated the impact he had had as a teacher. At a meeting, Des met a former student who pulled from his briefcase an old napkin that Des had used many years earlier to help explain a difficult concept to a group of students in the Dalhousie cafeteria. In Beijing in 2004, attending a meeting of mercury experts, Des was greeting a delegation from the Chinese government when one of the delegates stepped out of line, walked over to Des and said, “Hello Dr. Cousens. You taught me thermodynamics at Dalhousie.”

The impact of his loss can’t be measured, but Des’s memory will be cherished by those who loved him and whose lives he touched.



By Betty A. Wells, Des’s wife.

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