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Memories of Reg

by Dr. Walter H. Johns

Any of you here today will have known Reg Lister personally and each of you will have your own memories of him — for if you ever knew him at all, you will certainly remember him. He was that kind of person.

Reg was not a scholar, but he had great talents which he made use of to a degree that few men of his time have ever equalled. That was, I suppose, the main secret of his life.

He came to Canada from England as a young man and settled in Edmonton in 1911 where he found work helping to build the President's house for Dr. Tory and working on the new Athabasca Hall as a bricklayer and general handyman. When the University was moved into Athabasca Hall in that year, it was Reg Lister who lit the first fire in the kitchen there. I cannot help feeling this was somehow symbolic and prophetic for from the very first days of the University on this campus, Reg was an important part of its daily operations.

When the XIth Field Ambulance was formed in Edmonton and went overseas, Reg went too — as a batman for Major Moshier. After the war he came back like a homing pigeon to the University campus and soon found himself looking after the residences once more. From then on he never left the University and his home at the rear of the residences. They became his life and his career.

For many years Reg was the official caretaker of our three residences, and they were famous across Canada for the best caretaking any such buildings had. The floors shone like mirrors and the same standard of perfection existed in every nook and corner.

To a person like him, however, it was the people who were even more important than the buildings and he could never detach himself from interest in the students who lived in these halls, so they became his special charge. He knew boys and he knew when they came to University as freshmen from the farms and the towns and the cities of the province that they often did silly things, especially on Saturday nights. Reg seemed to have a sixth sense about such matters and he was often able to stop trouble before it became too serious. He was also expert at saving boys from serious disciplinary action, but only on the understanding that they behaved themselves in the future. One mistake he would tolerate, but if a pattern of misbehaviour began to appear, he would see that the offender was put out of residence by the proper authorities. He was never accorded any special authority himself in these matters by the President or the Wardens. He simply exercised his own brand of authority and everybody knew how important it was.

He was particularly helpful at student dances, first in Athabasca Hall, and later in the drill hall and elsewhere. I remember many occasions when my wife and I, as patrons of such affairs, felt we should leave before the dance was over to let a young babysitter go home and we were at first a bit concerned at what might appear to be a dereliction of duty, but the old hands used to say: "It's quite all right for you to leave now because Reg is here and everything will be all right." It was thus that the wardens and assistant wardens, the patrons and the patronesses, came to rely on Reg and he never let them down. For nearly forty years no dance could be complete without Reg to make sure that the arrangements were properly made beforehand and all the necessary cleaning up was done promptly afterwards.

What were the secrets of his greatness? Here was a man who never sought special status or consideration for himself. He only sought to serve to the utmost of his ability. He was diligent to an incredible degree. He was loyal to his own ideals and standards, whether they were in looking after the physical facilities or the human lives under his care. He was always cheerful no matter how tired he might be or how difficult the tasks he found to do. The students in residence loved and respected him and the old graduates always remembered him. Over the past years I have, on many occasions, spoken to Alumni groups in Toronto and Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa and elsewhere, and when I invited questions afterwards the first to be asked was nearly always "How is Reg Lister?" Can you imagine a finer tribute?

We tried to honour him in other ways — not because he ever wanted honours of any kind — but just to show him how we felt about him. Dr. Dennis Healy, who was a warden in Assiniboia Hall and Professor of French, brought the matter up in February, 1949 and the Senate agreed that Reg should be made an honorary member of Convocation in the Spring of that year. In addition to this he was made an honorary member of the class of '49 and an honorary life member of the Alumni Association. The certificate presented to him at Convocation that year reads in part: "...by virtue of his distinguished service for some forty years as guide, counsellor, and friend of many generations of students in residence at this University." Shortly afterwards his portrait was painted and now hangs here in Lister Hall.

On his retirement a trophy and annual prize of $50 was established in his name and he presented it to the University at a final banquet in his honour. The University had many distinguished men in its service during the past fifty years, but when the time came to give a name to the new Food Services Building and this magnificent residence complex, it was agreed that the only name for it was "Lister Hall." Reg has passed on, but we are pleased that Mrs. Lister and their children are here to share with us the pleasure of this ceremony, in which we remember with gratitude and affection the life of a modest little man whose stature among us became great and whose example is a challenge to us all.

Published Winter 1964/65.

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