Four generations of students
A family tradition
by Sharon Gray
Bruce Parsons with children Julia, left, and Nick. In the background is a picture of his father’s schooner. (Photo by Chris Hammond)
By attending Memorial University, Julia and Nick Parsons are carrying on a family tradition that spans four generations.
Julia is a first-year student who plans to study nursing. Her brother Nick, a Grade 12 student at Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John’s, is already doing a first-year physics course at Memorial and plans on majoring in physics at Memorial.
Bruce Parsons, has a PhD from Memorial (1990) and is director of research at the Institute for Ocean Technology. His father, Gerald Parsons, studied engineering at Memorial University College from 1941-1944. A generation before that, Bruce Parsons’ great-uncle Selby Parsons was in the first class of Memorial University College from 1925-30. He had won the Junior Jubilee scholarship for the highest marks in the province-wide exam, at a time when his father, Samual Parsons, was the lighthouse keeper on the eastern end of Long Island and had sent Selby to Deer Lake for Grade 11.
Gerald Parsons finished Grade 11 in Lushes Bite in the spring of 1939, taught by a woman who had not completed Grade 11. He was the first person to pass Grade 11 from Lushes Bite. He came to St. John’s in the summer of 1941 to earn his teacher certificate as his father had become too ill to fish anymore. Shortly after that he went to work for the Americans, who were building Fort Pepperrell. It was the first cash money he had ever earned outside his family. When he started engineering at Memorial fall of 1941 Dr. A.C. Hunter gave the orientation/welcome speech, where, among other things, the use of flush toilets was explained. “My father had lived until he was 10 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and so would have been one of the few outport students who did not need that explained to him,” said Bruce Parsons.
Attending Memorial University College in the 1940s was not always easy. “My father fished summers with his father mostly in Pilier Bite, north of Conche, and when that fishery finished in late June they would go to Labrador or Belle Isle for fish. One summer they went as far as Cape Chidley the northern most point on Labrador, looking for fish. This was in a 70-ft wooden schooner with no engine, radio, or charts and only a compass. After a summer of fishing he had enough money for eight months room and board in St. John’s and tuition for Memorial. Compared to going fishing, school was a vacation.”
On a trip in January 1944 after Christmas holidays from Lushes Bite back to Memorial, Gerald Parsons and his cousin Norm Wiseman and classmate Oscar Anstey were taken by Fred Wiseman, Norm’s father, as far as south Brook where arrangements had been made for an elderly man, Bob Young, and his team of 10 dogs to travel all night and take them the 30 miles to Badger to catch the train. They were caught in a snowstorm and spent much of the night breaking trail for the dogs through thigh-deep snow, though they did get a brief rest in a tilt in Gull Pond. “While my father had spent his time growing up fishing, his cousin Norm had had a much more protected upbringing and this trip was too much for him, and he died as a result of it,” related Bruce Parsons. “These days one does not need a dog team and risk of life to get back to MUN after Christmas break.”
After he finished the Memorial University College engineering technical diploma in 1944, Gerald Parsons went to Halifax to finish his engineering education. He is still sharp and healthy at age 84, living in Nova Scotia, and proud that his grandchildren are carrying on the tradition of receiving their education at Memorial University.