A key figure in the history of journalism education at Halifax’s University of King’s College, Glen Hancock saw himself first and foremost as a writer.
The author of four books, Hancock, who died on Dec. 4 in Kentville, N.S., at the age of 91, took a leave of absence from his public relations job with Imperial Oil in the early 1960s to head a new journalism school known as the Atlantic School of Journalism and Communications.
The school grew out of a partnership formed in 1945 between King’s College, Saint Mary’s College, Mount Saint Vincent College and two Halifax newspapers. When it reorganized in 1961 as the Atlantic School of Journalism and Communications, Hancock became its short-lived director. A couple of years later the school found itself in financial difficulty and he returned to Imperial Oil. The King’s School of Journalism as it is known today was created in the late 1970s.
Although the journalism school ceased operating in 1965, Hancock continued his involvement with King’s College for another two decades, teaching extension courses in journalism and public relations. In 1998, King’s awarded him an honorary doctorate of civil law.
“He was a great teacher,” said former student Linden MacIntyre, a co-host with the fifth estate, CBC Television’s investigative program. “I thought he was the PR ideal, someone who defined his job as PR man for Imperial Oil as being to represent the interests of the company in the public but, equally important, to advocate the interests of the public inside the corporate ramparts. For a long time I saw that as a valuable role in the business of communications. Unfortunately, I think Glen was one of the last of a dying breed.”
Glen Hancock was born in 1919 in Wolfville, a picturesque town in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. His father operated the livery stable on Main Street. In high school, he wrote fiction for Western and mystery magazines under a pseudonym. “This was pulp fiction,” said his daughter Beau Hancock. “This wasn’t literature.”
While studying at Acadia University, Hancock joined the RCAF after reading a headline in late 1939 on the front page in the Halifax Herald that said: “5,100 Pilots Needed for the RAF.” It intrigued him. “I had no particular desire to fly, and had never been up in an aircraft. But this seemed the way to go,” he wrote in his 2000 book My Real Name is Charley: Memoirs of a Grocer’s Clerk. (Charley is Glen Hancock.)
Later in life he wrote extensively about his wartime experience in his 2004 book Charley Goes to War. In the book he writes candidly about having to transport British officials to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany after it was liberated.
“As my eyes surveyed this devastation – and as my mind came to realize the full scope of the wickedness explicit here – I wondered how this had been allowed to happen by literate people who could build bridges and compose beautiful music, who loved their children, and who could pray to a God they recognized,” he wrote. “The horror of seeing the victims, their nondescript bodies – or what was left of their bodies – entwined in lime pits with the bones of their friends, their parents, their children; of those dead eyes – if they had not yet rotted from the sockets – without a fire left in them; the horror of that remains with me to this day. The validity of war could never again be denied, it seemed to me, insofar as that war was fought to prevent or avenge a human tragedy such as this one. It made me ashamed of the human race.”
Hancock was working on another book to be called Charley’s Left Over Life that looked at the aftermath of war. While he had filing cabinets filled with notes and research for the book, he never finished it.
Following the war, he returned to Acadia to complete his degree and started working with the London Free Press, in London, Ont., as an editorial and feature writer. He also wrote a column on cultural arts that was syndicated to dozens of newspapers. In the 1950s, he began working in public relations with Imperial Oil.
One of his most challenging times with the company was in 1970 when the Liberian-registered tanker Arrow ran aground on Cerberus Rock in Chedabucto Bay, N.S., carrying 108,000 barrels of Bunker C fuel. The oil spilled into the bay and more than 300 kilometres of shoreline were contaminated with oil. For two months after the spill, Hancock lived in a local motel fielding media calls and handling the public relations.
In 1979, he took early retirement from the company and returned to Wolfville to focus on writing and teaching creative writing at Acadia University and Mount Saint Vincent University.
Involved in a variety of community organizations, he was a long-time member of the Wolfville Historical Society, had once served as director of scouts in Nova Scotia and was at one time a Canadian delegate to the United Nations congress on the prevention of crime in Geneva.
“He’d always been a curious person,” said Beau Hancock. “He was sucking up knowledge right till he went to the hospital.”
Every morning at 8:30 a.m., you could find Hancock and a handful of friends at a restaurant on Wolfville’s main street, where they met to chat over coffee. The only days they missed were Christmas and New Year’s.
“He was always interacting with people,” she said. “He was very enthusiastic about life.”
Hancock leaves his daughters Johanna and Beau, grandchildren Samantha and Joshua and great-grandson James. He was predeceased by his wife, Reta.
Special to The Globe and Mail