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Retired high school math teacher Bruce White, centre front, said he was stunned by the naming ceremony for the University of Waterloo atrium, which attracted more than 30 of his former students, including donor John Hele, second from left. (Chris Hughes/ELED Photography/Chris Hughes/ELED Photography)
Retired high school math teacher Bruce White, centre front, said he was stunned by the naming ceremony for the University of Waterloo atrium, which attracted more than 30 of his former students, including donor John Hele, second from left. (Chris Hughes/ELED Photography/Chris Hughes/ELED Photography)

GIVING BACK

A shiny new atrium for the teacher Add to ...

The Donor: John Hele

The Gift: $500,000

The Cause: University of Waterloo

The Reason: To honour his high school math teacher

When the University of Waterloo approached John Hele about making a donation to a new mathematics building, Mr. Hele agreed – but he wanted to doing something different.

The university offered to name the atrium after Mr. Hele in recognition of his donation of $250,000, which was matched by his employer, Bermuda-based insurer Arch Capital Group Ltd. “Naming something after myself wasn’t very exciting,” recalled Mr. Hele, who graduated from Waterloo in 1980 with a degree in mathematics and is now Arch’s chief financial officer. “I started thinking about people who inspired me.”

From the Giving Back archive

He didn’t think for very long. Mr. Hele, who grew up in Windsor, Ont., asked to name the atrium after his high school math teacher, Bruce White. “I still remember him vividly,” recalled Mr. Hele. “He taught you how to learn math, how to solve problems.”

Mr. White was no softy. Mr. Hele recalled students getting dinged by flying pieces of chalk when the teacher became frustrated and he remembered the quiet tension in the classroom as Mr. White handed out marked tests in ascending order of grades. “He read out each mark,” he said. But he also recalled the dedication of Mr. White, who used novel teaching methods, spent untold hours coaching students to help them get into university, and led groups of them on trips to the math department at Waterloo. “He taught me things that I have used all my life,” he added.

Mr. White said he was stunned by the honour and the naming ceremony which attracted more than 30 of his former students. “It’s something as a teacher that you never think will happen,” he said from his home in Windsor. Although he retired in 2004, after nearly 40 years of teaching high school math, Mr. White, 73, still runs a local math club for 200 students and helps out with enriched math classes. When asked what it was like to see his name on the math building, Mr. White replied: “It’s really surreal.”

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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