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John Christian Egsgard
John Christian Egsgard

Math teacher John Egsgard spent decades changing students' lives Add to ...

Mathematician. Teacher. Priest. Husband. Born March 20, 1925, in Toronto; died July 10, 2016, in Toronto; of a heart attack; age 91.

One of five children raised in Toronto during the Great Depression, John’s Danish father died when John was five. His Irish-Catholic mother, Lorraine, raised her five children well.

John didn’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a priest when he grew up, no doubt influenced by the strong Catholic community of which his family was a part. John attended St. Michael’s College School on a scholarship, and during high school, John’s sisters regularly advised girls of his career plans, which put a damper on his love life.

In the seminary, John completed a masters degree in mathematics at the University of Toronto, and was gold medallist in his graduating class. John was ordained into the Order of Basilian Fathers in 1953, and he taught, then ran, the math department at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. He also coached hockey.

After John’s death, countless former students from as far back as the 1950s contacted his family to express how he had profoundly changed their lives for the better. At his funeral, former St. Mike’s student Justice Stong recounted in his homily, “He was the kind of guy who could make a most difficult subject, like trigonometry or calculus, interesting and understandable. … John’s teaching ability was enhanced by his dry sense of humour, which often eluded us, but by which he was able to command our attention and respect, rather than demand it.”

John served for two years as the president of the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics (NCTM), the only non-American to hold the position. He also became president of the Ontario Associations for Mathematics Education and the Canadian Association of Mathematics Teachers.

John was a prolific author of over 25 math textbooks, which were regular fixtures in Ontario high schools for decades. In 1993, he won the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in mathematics teaching, and in 1997 received the lifetime achievement award from NCTM.

In 1971, at a teacher’s convention in Texas, John met American mathematician Lyn McLane, with whom he would later fall deeply in love. John left the priesthood and, with the Pope’s permission, John and Lyn married in 1973. John and Lyn raised their three children, Jennifer, Erik and Neil in Orillia, Ont.

In 1982, the Egsgard family lived in Geneva for a year, where John taught at Ecolint International School. While there, John and Lyn accepted an invitation by the Russian government to meet with mathematicians in Moscow. On their return John was amused to be questioned intensively by the Swiss police and accused of Cold War espionage.

John and Lyn both shared a love for the outdoors, skiing, hiking and wine, and John sought out new challenges in these areas after his retirement. At 70, he took a ski-instructor course together with his 16-year-old son Neil. Much to Neil’s horror, John was the only one of them to pass the course. That year, John also completed hiking all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks in the Appalachian Mountains.

Lyn was the love of John’s life for 43 years. The last few were difficult. John developed Parkinson’s disease, and Lyn was diagnosed in 2014 with cancer. During the last weeks of Lyn’s life John rarely let go of her hand, day or night. When she finally passed, his heart broke. Seven months and one day later, he followed Lyn.

Jennifer and Neil Egsgard are John’s children.

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