Teacher, mentor, traveller, historian, friend. Born Aug. 8, 1944, in Cobourg, Ont., died Oct. 19, 2012, in Newmarket, Ont., of complications from stomach cancer, age 68.
Paul Delaney had no offspring, yet more than 600 people packed St. Mark’s Church in Midland, Ont., for his interfaith funeral in October. Many more would have come if they had been able, from across North America and around the world, especially Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
There were former students from his nearly 30 years teaching elementary school in North Simcoe; classmates from Trent University’s first graduating class, and recent Trent international students who affectionately called him “Uncle Paul.” There were co-workers and staff, including his staff as founding director of Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons from 1969 to 1973. He would have remembered every name.
Paul was the eldest child of Lloyd Delaney, an Anglican minister, and Helen, a librarian. He grew up in Gore’s Landing, Lakefield and finally Midland , where he spent most of his adult life.
By some magical combination of nurture and nature he entered adulthood as one of those rare human beings innocent of prejudice – unless it was in favour of the poor and the dispossessed. He loved equally his students in Gombe, Nigeria, where he taught with CUSO (formerly called Canadian University Service Overseas) from 1973 to 1975, and his pupils in Fesserton, Waubaushene and Victoria Harbour, where he taught from 1975 to 2002.
He was acutely sensitive to injustice, but he wasn’t a crusader. He called himself a “reluctant rebel,” whose activism expressed itself through his extraordinary and far-flung network of friends.
As a teacher and humanitarian, Paul recorded many honours and accomplishments, including the Governor-General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching History, TVO Teacher of the Year, the Pope’s Medal and the YMCA Peace Medal.
But his proudest achievements were the student parliament at Victoria Harbour Elementary School and the school’s twinning with an impoverished school in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, where he had volunteered one summer. For 10 years, VHES students fundraised for Port Loko. First they bought supplies, then they built a new well and finally a new school. The student parliament sent delegations to the United Nations, on one memorable occasion reducing the ambassador from Sierra Leone to tears with their concern for the suffering of children in his war-ravaged country.
But Paul’s friends were his true life’s work and legacy. For him, teaching, history and friendship were inextricably bound. He was one of those teachers you remember and who, if you’re lucky, becomes first a mentor and then a loyal friend. He was a trained historian, but his specialty was the history of the people he knew and the places he lived.
He showed us all what it means to be a truly engaged citizen – of the planet and of the communities in which we live.
Rick Archbold is a friend of Paul.
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