Robin Farquhar, VHS 1956, Vic High A Magical Place
By Linda Baker, VHS 1969
“Vic High was where I learned to be adventurous,” says Robin Farquhar, VHS 1956, “where I learned anything was possible. None of us thought we might fail at anything. We just wondered what we’d succeed at.”
It was the 1950s. World War II was well and truly over, there was great optimism, innovation, and expansion in the world, and travel was more feasible. “Vic High was a wonderful place to be,” says Robin, “very accepting of everyone and really at the top of its game. Our valedictorian, John Gilliland, graduated with the highest grade point average in BC that year.”
Robin attended Margaret Jenkins up to grade eight, then went straight to Vic High for grades nine to twelve. “We lived near Foul Bay and Fairfield roads right at the catchment border,” says Robin. “My two brothers went to Oak Bay, but our parents had the good sense to send me to Vic High!”
After graduation, Robin earned a BA and MA in English Literature at UBC and taught high school in Sooke for two years, but discovered his true passion lay in educational administration. He was offered a full scholarship at the top school in North America for that discipline, The University of Chicago. His first position after earning his PhD was on the faculty at Ohio State University in Columbus. He then accepted the Chair of Educational Administration at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Five years later, he became the Dean of Education at the University of Saskatchewan, and after that, President of The University of Winnipeg. Eight years later he was appointed as President of Carleton University in Ottawa, and retired from there at age 65.
Over the next 15 years he consulted internationally, assisting university leaders around the world, while continuing to live in Ottawa until one icy winter he began to question why he was struggling with such a cold climate. Luckily his Calgary-born wife Fran agreed and they moved home to Victoria in 2018. “It had changed a lot while I was gone,” says Robin, “mostly for the good.”
Maybe it was Robin’s father, Hugh Farquhar, president of the University of Victoria in the early ‘seventies, who inspired him. The UVic Farquhar Auditorium was named after his father in recognition of his efforts to plan and develop the University Centre and Auditorium. Or maybe it really was his four years at Vic High.
“I was into everything at school,” says Robin. “I actually won the Activities Award with John Lancaster that year. Being involved in so many things really taught me to say, when opportunities arose throughout my life, ‘I can do that!’ ” A search of his name in the 1956 Camosun (available digitally on the Vic High Alumni website), reveals twelve entries, and his grad write-up says it all.
“This popular guy’s activities speak for themselves. Class Rep., Students’ Council Exec., Head Prefect, Sports’ Editor Camosunet, Camosun Editor, President Future Teachers’ Club. Badminton Club, Exec. French Club, Alpha Hi-Y, Grad Dance Team, Senior Rep. Rugby and Soccer, House Sports, Honour Student.”
“I was friends with Jim Taylor,” says Robin. “I’d taken (teacher) Stan Murphy’s Journalism class, and actually followed Jim into the high school sports stringer role at the Times newspaper when Jim started full-time with the paper.”
(Note: Jim Taylor went on to become a high-profile award-winning sports writer and author, and was inducted into the Vic High Black and Gold Honour Roll. Click here for more about Jim.)
Did you ever visit the attic, we ask? “We didn’t even know there was one,” says Robin. “We were just so focused on enjoying our school and maximizing all the opportunities it offered. It really was a magical place to be. It set the course for my life, one I made sure always included interesting things besides my professional work.”
Then there was the time he met BC’s Premier W.A.C. Bennett. He was best friends with Waldo Skillings, VHS 1956, son of Bennett’s Minister of Industry Waldo Skillings, VHS 1925. “Bennett would always come and talk with us kids when he came to meet with Waldo’s father,” says Robin. “One day – we were about 16 or 17 – he asked me if I was coming to the Leaders’ Debate. He then wrote out a question for me to ask. I waited at the mic after each candidate had spoken, then asked the question. ‘I’m glad you asked me that, young man!’ boomed Bennett, and away he went with his ready answer. I don’t remember now what the question was, but it was probably my first introduction to politics.”
Vic High owes its culture of acceptance, excellence and opportunity to countless people throughout its history. It’s reassuring to know those values have influenced so many who have in turn embodied them and influenced others. Robin’s many roles in Higher Education Policy and Management put him in a unique position as an influencer, and one can only imagine how many thousands of administrators and teachers and students have been touched by the spirit and values of Vic High that so profoundly inspired Robin throughout his life.
Thank you, Robin. You have made a difference, and continue to do so. (And just so you know, Vic High still is, and always will be, a magical place.)