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Brian Wharf


Writer, father, educator, husband, social worker, poppa. Born June 25, 1932, in Regina. Died Aug. 11, 2011, in Victoria of complications from heart disease, aged 79.

Brian Wharf was always surprised at his accomplishments. One of two sons of Paul and Nora, he grew up in a working-class family in England during the Depression and Second World War, a time when his future looked bleak. Cast as the family roustabout, he was cheeky and good at soccer, but fidgety and uninterested in learning.

The family returned to Canada in 1946, hoping for better employment prospects and wishing to be close to emigrated family members. Brian's British education and emerging talent for writing gave him a significant boost. The editor of the local newspaper told him he was a fool to take a reporter job when he had a chance at higher education at the local college. He transferred later to the University of British Columbia, earning a BA in 1953, a BSW in 1956, an MSW in 1957 and a PhD from Brandeis University in 1969.

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As it happened, Brian spent most of his working life at university. He had a natural affinity for the field of social work, appreciating the ache of inequality and constantly challenging the social structures that encase it.

He spent 30 years as a professor, first at McMaster University and later at the University of Victoria, where he founded the school of social work in 1975 and became dean of the health and human services faculty in 1983. A prodigious writer and researcher, he produced more than 15 books and numerous articles and papers. Most significantly, he was a patient and talented mentor for many students and colleagues, even after retirement in 1999.

Most surprising to him was his success at parenting. Within a year, he went from a carefree single guy to a husband and new father to twin daughters. His first thought when the babies, Joan and Sandy, came home: "I'm not sure I can do this." He had bleary memories of non-stop nighttime feedings when he wasn't sure whether he had fed one baby twice or two babies once. But they survived and prospered.

In later years his favourite time was spent at home on Saltspring Island, hiking the acres of wilderness behind our house with me and his beloved border-collie cross, Skye, or enjoying family times with our combined gang: four girls and their mates and six grandchildren. He cast a small footprint with pride, buying only locally when it was quaint rather than trendy and insisting that for every purchase, something had to go, earning his family nickname – "Chuck."

Brian's vigorous appearance belied his long struggle with asthma and a heart condition contracted from a youthful bout of rheumatic fever. Although his last years were tough, he always thought he had much more than he ever needed and achieved much more than he had ever imagined.

Marilyn Callahan is Brian's wife.

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