Address to convocation

by Dr. Geoffrey Alan Perry

Memorial University, St. John's


(June 5, 1997, Gazette)

This is a very special day indeed for me. I am so highly delighted to have been awarded this honorary doctorate -- a very great honor indeed. I thank you, Mr. Chancellor, also the members of the Senate and all those people who were instrumental in presenting this doctorate to me.

I was so thrilled when I received the letter from the secretary of the Senate informing me of this great honor that I felt the first person I should tell, after my wife of course, was my mother. Mother is now 87 years old; we live close by, in the same village in Dorset. I told her that the Memorial University of Newfoundland had awarded me an honorary doctorate. She asked me to explain exactly what that meant. I explained to her in great detail and after some time she said in a very confidential tone, I hope they don't ask you any questions as you were only in the gardening class at school! Which if I had started to get any "airs and graces" would have very quickly brought me down to earth.

This honor has been conferred on me for my work in strengthening the ties between Newfoundland and Dorset and the West Country of England. Approximately 50 per cent of your ancestors originated from the West Country and Dorset, and in my research of these early settlers it soon became very clear that the majority of them came here to start a better life for themselves and their families.

Over the last few years two groups of students have come over to Dorset, and on each occasion in early May when Dorset looks at its best -- green pastures and woods full of bluebells. And the question was "Why did our ancestors leave this beautiful country?" The truth is that they and their families were hungry, there was no way to better themselves, the land was all owned and it was illegal to go out hunting in the woods, so the ones with drive and initiative came to Newfoundland, fishing at first just for the summer season, then returning to England in the autumn. Later they brought their families and settled in the bays and islands along the east coast. It was a decision that took great courage, it was a very hard life indeed. Many of them prospered and life was so much better than the one they had been used to.

All of you young people today are starting out on a new phase of your lives. Be like your ancestors -- have the courage to be adventurous. You have a tremendous advantage over these original settlers. You leave Memorial University, which is highly regarded worldwide, with your degrees and other qualifications. Don't be frightened to take decisions -- some people never make decisions. True they don't make mistakes, but they don't achieve anything either; they also, I find, tend to be rather boring! So what ever you do and wherever you go, work with enthusiasm, the idea firmly fixed in your mind that you are going to be a success. Life does have its ups and downs, but remember we have but one life -- this is not rehearsal, it's the real thing, and with success will come satisfaction and enjoyment of life. I have most certainly enjoyed my life. This is in fact my 29th visit to Newfoundland. I can assure you it is not the weather that keeps bringing me back, it is the wonderful hospitality that I have always received and the most sincere friendships that have developed over the last 12 years -- these friends have supported and encouraged me with the Trinity Trust project, a project to rebuild the first brick house to be built in Newfoundland as a museum and a learning centre for school children and students which, I hope, will rekindle, promote and celebrate the strong historical and cultural links between Newfoundland and the West Country of England.

It is really a great privilege to share the stage this afternoon with a great friend who has spent much time in Dorset and has been a major inspiration to me ever since. Our first meeting was on Poole Quay when he was over with a CBC film crew making a film about Newfoundland -- Dorset Connection. We met on that visit and he fired me with his enthusiasms. He formed the Newfoundland Wessex Society and was our guest of honor when we, in England, formed the Newfoundland Wessex Society. It is a great joy to share the honor with him this afternoon. On the 29th May, 1936, I was born in London, England -- yes, today is my birthday, and this is without doubt the most unique birthday present I have ever received. Than you all so very much.