For more than four decades, Robin Tomlin was stung by the cruel taunt imprinted next to his yearbook photo. In the space reserved for students to share their hopes and dreams, Mr. Tomlin's profile featured a solitary word: "Fag."
Monday, his years-long quest for an apology finally came to fruition. The North Vancouver School District said it was sorry and issued Mr. Tomlin a new copy of the book, complete with his original quote: "Meet as many people from all over the world as I can and I WANNA BE A COWBOY."
Mr. Tomlin was a student at Argyle Secondary in 1970 when the incident occurred. Exactly how it happened – and who's to blame – has not been revealed. A teacher was supposed to provide yearbook oversight, a process that clearly did not occur. Mr. Tomlin has said he knows who is responsible, but declined to name names.
He's been calling for an apology since 2000, when his daughter came across the book. She was by his side for Monday's apology and wept.
Mr. Tomlin, on the other hand, beamed as he met with reporters outside his old school. He said he's relieved to be able to finally move past the incident.
"They made a very sincere apology, face to face," he said. "I appreciated that."
He added: "It's all closure. It's great. I'm happy. It's done."
Several of Mr. Tomlin's friends and old classmates showed up outside the school to show their support. Some held candles. The group planned to hold a celebration in Mr. Tomlin's honour Monday night.
When asked what effect the yearbook incident had on him, Mr. Tomlin said, "It affected me because you'd see on TV over the last 10, 15 years what people are doing over bullying now. I mean, they're killing themselves. I just wanted to speak up to try to stop that."
Mr. Tomlin has said a group of eight to 10 "jocks" made his life miserable when he was at Argyle. He said they routinely pushed and taunted him, but he was too frightened to complain.
When he first saw the yearbook, as a 17 year old, he wondered why anyone would do such a thing. He then tried to think up a way to hide what had occurred.
None of the people responsible for the yearbook incident have apologized, he said.
Though Mr. Tomlin has said he knows who was responsible, John Lewis, superintendent for the North Vancouver School District, told reporters Monday he is still unsure.
"As with every yearbook that is published, there is oversight provided by a teacher or a sponsor. It's a daunting task to bring together a yearbook. We're not sure how the word was entered into the text, how it went past an editing group, and how it was published. But we know that it was certainly a cruel and unacceptable comment in 1970 and would be an unacceptable comment today," he said.
When asked if the district is still investigating, he said it does not have the resources to do so. He expressed hope those responsible would come forward on their own.
Mr. Tomlin has said his apology request was ignored until about six months ago, when he posted on a Facebook page for Argyle graduates. He said he was only taken seriously when a lawyer wrote to the school on his behalf.
The story drew considerable media attention in recent weeks. Mr. Lewis denied that was the reason the district issued its apology.
"As we worked through a process for a number of months, we were very close to reaching a satisfactory outcome for Mr. Tomlin and the school district," he said.