Pilot, teacher, headmaster, historian, mentor, father, grandfather. Born Dec. 12, 1925, in Isfahan, Persia. Died July 29, 2011, in Victoria in his sleep, aged 85.
Jack Schaffter was destined to teach. Descended from three generations of English missionaries, he was born in Persia (present-day Iran), where his parents, a surgeon and a nurse, ran a 100-bed missionary hospital.
At 5, Jack was packed off to an English boarding school where he suffered "weekly thrashings for being sad and bad." When war erupted in 1939, his parents were cut off in Persia; Jack did not see them from age 8 to 18.
Raised by a maiden aunt, he attended Trent College in Nottinghamshire, his father's alma mater. Mesmerized by the daily news of dogfights in the Battle of Britain – "I knew I was seeing history being made" – Jack scored top of his class in split-second recognition of swarms of aircraft. Entering King's College, Cambridge, he longed to fly Spitfires; at 19, while training in Oklahoma to join the war against Japan, the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima cut short his dreams of aerial combat.
On a ship to Canada in 1950, the handsome 24-year-old met Anne Overend, who soon declared: "All things considered, you turned out surprisingly normal." For a three-week stint in Toronto, Jack's master's degree in history qualified him to steam carpets and sell encyclopedias door-to-door until he learned that a prep school needed a master to instruct eight-year-old boys. With no teaching experience, except in his DNA, "Happy Jack" spent the next 18 years at Upper Canada College influencing the pre-pubescent likes of Conrad Black and Michael Ignatieff (and helping raise three children of his own – Cathy, Tim and John).
Early on at UCC, as Jack raised a cane over a misbehaving boy, he realized that he was re-enacting his own past, and renounced the practice. In troubled children he saw himself; it was they who were teaching him. In 1968, he was recruited as head of St. John's-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg. He quickly banned corporal punishment and made the school co-ed.
A decade later, he migrated to Victoria to run St. Michaels University School, transforming its culture by introducing girls. "Men," he declared with characteristic honesty, "are terrified of women." A felicitous blend of the virile and the tender, he would astonish his charges by ripping a phone book in half, then comfort a sensitive soul crying over a spelling mistake.
Jack's gift for enlivening history – he co-authored the textbooks Winds of Change and Modern Perspectives – was composed of equal parts enthusiasm, charisma, erudition and pure fun. A civilized man of conscience and humour, he inspired countless youth over four decades.
Hours after his passing, his wife confirmed what we all knew: "He died as he lived – a gentle, caring, thoughtful man."
James FitzGerald is a former student of Jack's.