A stint in Burns Lake that former VANOC head John Furlong has characterized as “fairly brief and fairly uneventful” has stuck in the minds of others, who recall the period as being the time he met and married his first wife and showed a knack for sports as well as a competitive streak.
“I was at his wedding. I am friends of his ex-wife,” Roisin Neville, who came from Ireland as a Frontier Apostle and now lives in Prince George, said Monday in a telephone interview.
“We were all like a family, the Frontier Apostles,” Ms. Neville said. “John came and he was a young, smart man – and he started dating quite soon after he came. He married the nicest possible girl anyone could possibly have married. She was incredible.
“Everybody liked John. He was popular.”
The Frontier Apostolate Movement, founded in the 1950s by a B.C. bishop as a way to build schools in the sprawling Prince George diocese, brought volunteers from around the world to teach and work in B.C. communities.
Ms. Neville signed on as a “breadwinner” – someone who would earn wages at an outside job to subsidize other volunteers – and came to Burns Lake in early 1969. Mr. Furlong arrived later that year, she said.
In interviews and in his memoir, Mr. Furlong has described coming to Canada as an immigrant in 1974 without mentioning a previous trip.
Mr. Furlong’s background, and his accounts of it, have been under scrutiny since late last month, when the Georgia Straight published a story by Laura Robinson that contained allegations that Mr. Furlong physically and verbally abused students at a Burns Lake school.
Since then, The Globe and Mail has spoken to several former students who allege Mr. Furlong hit, kicked or shoved them.
Mr. Furlong has denied any wrongdoing. The RCMP is investigating the allegations.
Ms. Neville said she is in “total shock and disbelief” at allegations that Mr. Furlong physically and verbally abused students at the school.
She recalls Mr. Furlong as athletic and competitive, even in table tennis, joking that she beat him only once.
In a statement late last week, Mr. Furlong said the reporter “did not place a single call to me to validate any elements of this story” before it was published in the Georgia Straight. In the story, however, Ms. Robinson said Mr. Furlong – through his lawyer – denied physically abusing children. She added that multiple e-mails were sent to Mr. Furlong through his lawyer.
Ms. Robinson later said she had also sent several e-mails to Mr. Furlong’s publisher and, in April, 2011, asked directly about his time in Burns Lake, but that Mr. Furlong would not answer her questions.
Some people in Burns Lake were upset and disappointed that Mr. Furlong did not highlight his time in the community, Ms. Neville said, but she is not one of them.
“He was covering up nothing. He had nothing to cover up,” Ms. Neville said. “That was a new chapter in his life and he started his story there.”