by Caleb Nickerson
This year’s graduation ceremony at Pontiac High School (PHS) was a difficult one for Kathryn Perry.
It’s the first time she’s attended without her husband Ellard at her side. He passed away on Oct. 17 after a lengthy battle with cancer, missing his grandson Calvin’s graduation by just a few weeks.
As a long-time educator and administrator at the school, Ellard’s absence was conspicuous. His place was marked on the platform by an empty chair, and his son Tim led the opening prayer in his stead.
Ellard was raised in Waltham and commuted down the line by train every morning to attend school in Shawville. This is where he encountered Kathryn, though it would still be many years before they were an item.
“I had known his family, just vaguely, because we would meet at church gatherings,” she recalled. “He sat ahead of me in school, and everything came easy to him. He could just sit there and be happy, and I’m sitting behind struggling, writing notes, studying, reading … I got better marks than him but I worked like a dog for them.”
The two remained acquaintances throughout their time at Pontiac Protestant High School (PPHS), as it was called back then, but it wouldn’t be until a few years after graduation that Ellard first asked her out to a ball game.
“I thought, ‘Ball games are the most boring things on the face of the earth,’” she said with a laugh. “Still do.”
Her lack of enthusiasm didn’t stop her from having a good time, but Ellard wasn’t immediately smitten. According to Kathryn, when his father asked if he was going to take her out again, Ellard said no. When pressed further, he gave the reason: “She talks too much.”
The two went their separate ways, but were reunited a couple years later. Ellard was serving as the driver for a musical troupe his brother performed in and their piano player, Kathryn’s cousin, happened to invite her along.
“I went for a couple of trips with them, going here or there, and then we started dating,” she said.
They were engaged the next year, on Apr. 15, 1966 (Kathryn’s birthday), and married that August. Kathryn worked for local notary Raymond Rowat, while Ellard taught school across the river in Prescott and Renfrew. He commuted into Carleton University two nights a week to complete his Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history. However, the job in Renfrew wasn’t a great fit, and it began to wear on Ellard.
“He’d come home at night just very unhappy and I’d say to him, ‘Why don’t you apply to Western Quebec, here?’ To which he replied, ‘They’d never hire me,’” Kathryn explained, imitating his morose tone with a grin.
As it turned out, Ellard would be hired in the fall of ’67 and spend the rest of his career with the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB).
In 1969, the couple had their first son, Tim, and moved into their own home in the Frank Finnigan subdivision. Ellard taught history and science at PPHS until 1974, when his son Paul was born and he was granted leave to complete his Master’s degree in education, returning in 1975 as the vice-principal.
“Every time we had a child we either moved or he got a promotion,” laughed Kathryn.
Rick Valin had the unenviable job of taking over Ellard’s teaching position when he moved up to VP.
“Those were big shoes to fill, because his style and my style were considerably different,” he said, remembering Ellard as an excellent boss.
“He was consistent. If he said something was wrong to do on a Monday it was still wrong to do it on Friday,” Valin said. “You always knew where you stood.”
Ellard’s career continued its ascension and he was promoted to principal in 1981, the same year his youngest son Aaron was born. Barry McGowan took over as his vice principal. Originally from Ladysmith, McGowan went to school with Ellard, but the two didn’t become friends until they worked together in the office.
“I kind of recognized him, a couple of years had passed,” McGowan remembered. “We worked together, one way or another, for 16 years. That’s a long time.”
McGowan was impressed by Ellard’s dignified character and his dedication to his Christian faith, recalling a consummate professional who was tough but fair.
“Ellard was a very honest man,” he said. “Very old school, if you will.”
Valin added that Ellard had a great sense of humour and was extremely supportive to both his students and staff. Shindigs at the Perry’s were a highlight of the staff social calendar.
“Every Christmas when he was principal and vice principal, and even after he retired, he and Kathryn would have the entire staff out to their house,” Valin said.
One memory in particular stood out for Valin, after Ellard had been pranked by one of the teachers on his staff, Carlo Giuliani.
“The way Ellard got Carlo back was he took out an ad in The Equity and tried to sell his house,” explained Valin. “It was so funny because it took a long time for him to figure out who had done it.”
“The staff there was a unique staff, it was like a family,” Kathryn noted.
“He loved people and he loved his students,” she continued. “During his career being principal, he had two students killed in car accidents and it just ripped him apart.”
Ellard made a point of standing at the door of the school and saying goodbye to each student.
The respect wasn’t always mutual, however.
“I remember dad stood in the garage with the lights off and watched PHS students egg the house,” said Tim. “He called them up to the office the next morning and basically said, ‘You can go clean it, or I can phone your parents and then you can go clean it.’”
Kathryn chuckled when she recalled teaching a piano lesson while the young vandals scrubbed shells and yolk out of the bricks. She said that many former students approached her at Ellard’s visitation with tales of their time spent in the office.
“They said, ‘I got into big trouble but Mr. Perry always heard my side of the story and he was fair,’” she said.
After a decade at the helm of PHS, Ellard eventually worked for a short time at the WQSB office in Aylmer, before retiring in 1997.
In addition to his dedication to the teaching profession, Ellard was a pillar of the Shawville Standard Church (which eventually merged with the Wesleyan Church to become New Hope Christian Fellowship). He taught Sunday school, led worship and was a strong supporter of Zion Hill Camp in Forrester’s Falls. The Perry’s also fostered three children, with whom they still keep in touch.
“I think you could count on these fingers how many Sundays he missed,” Kathryn said.
The fact that two of Ellard’s children (Tim and Aaron) went on to become men of the cloth is evidence of his devotion to both education and the church.
“He’d always say, ‘Two of my sons are pastors and the third one’s sane,’” said Kathryn.
“It was certainly part and parcel of the home in which we were raised that Aaron and I not only ended up in the ministry, but ended up in kinds of ministry where teaching was at the forefront,” added Tim. “I taught for 15 years before I became a regular parish minister. Aaron was a traditional minister, but now he’s a teacher, so certainly, you can see dad’s influence.”
In retirement Ellard kept busy by painting houses, selling firewood, and mentoring student teachers from Bishop’s University. He even tried his hand at learning to play the fiddle.
“He loved playing with that wood splitter,” Kathryn said, shaking her head. “He said, ‘When that engine goes, I just get a rush.’”
In April of 2016, Ellard was diagnosed with cancer and doctors gave him three months to live. His faith, and the support of his family, never wavered.
“God definitely did a healing,” said Kathryn. “Nobody with liver cancer lives for 31 months and enjoys it. Nobody does. All through it, he gave great testimony of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Both Kathryn and Tim said they were overwhelmed, but not surprised by the crowds that came out to pay their respects.
“The nature of his work was such that he was making connections in a lot of different circles,” said Tim. “There was the education circle, there was the church circle, there [were] the people he bought and sold wood from, there [were] the people he painted for … and those circles all overlapped to some degree.”
“His walk matched his talk, and that’s why he’s such an influence,” said Kathryn. “He was a very humble man, not a braggy man at all, unless it was about his kids. And his grandchildren even more.”
“He was an all-around good human being,” said McGowan.
“He’s going to be sorely missed, because he was involved with so much,” concluded Valin.
Even though Ellard has been gone physically for several weeks, he still has the ability to make people laugh, as this reporter discovered during the research for this article. The answering machine at the Perry residence features a sing-song jingle by the man himself:
“Well it’s one for the money, two for the show,
Please leave your message before you go,
But when you use my pho-o-o-one, please await the to-o-o-one,
We’re away from the shack, but we’ll call you right back,
When we get ho-o-o-me!”
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