Over many years, thousands of students have come and gone through the halls of Pontiac High School. Some have stayed local, while some have gone off around the world following their dreams. But for many of those students, they all have something in common, one person who touched their lives as someone who put their needs first and foremost. Though he has passed away his influence on his students still is cherished by many.
David Holmes joined the staff at PPHS in 1975 as a physical education teacher, where he taught until 2011, a total of 36 years. He also taught English, agriculture and music classes, thus inspiring a multitude of different students in his time.
David was an athlete, having competed in several sports before teaching. He was a record breaker in track and field and at PHS he coached basketball, badminton, track and field, soccer, football, wrestling and archery. He contributed in more ways than just mentoring at the high school, and now his legacy is being honoured as a builder and a coach in the PHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I was very happy, very proud. Very glad that David was getting this well-deserved honor,” said David’s wife Carol Bretzloff-Holmes. “I know that David would have been very pleased, but he’d also be very surprised because although he helped many people, young and old, and left a mark on many of those lives, he never looked for accolades or praise or thanks. It was always nice to get appreciation, but he was never looking for it. So he would have been really surprised.”
David was born in Montreal and attended Lindsay Place High School, where he excelled in sports. In particular, he played football and basketball, but was also a swimmer, a wrestler and a track and field athlete. In his final year he broke the existing records for shot put and javelin on the Island of Montreal.
On June 26, 1969, David attended a Joni Mitchell concert where he went on a blind date with the woman he would happily spend the next 48 years with.
“I was 18 and he was 19,” she recalled. “And at that time, I knew very little about sports. And he knew little about art. But he was a good listener. And I was a very good talker.”
David and Carol chatted for hours and kept in touch afterwards, with David transferring from Concordia University to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick where Carol was in her first year studying art. David eventually received his bachelor of arts degree in art, philosophy, religion and art history from the school.
Later, David moved back to Montreal and Carol returned to the Pontiac, but every weekend he would make the trip to Carol’s family’s farm, Netherleigh Farm — which is now run by their son Phillip and his family.
Carol’s mother was a teacher, and a very passionate one at that. She encouraged her daughter to take up teaching even though Carol only wanted to be an artist. She had a knack for telling who would make a great teacher.
“She saw that David had all the qualities to become a good teacher,” Carol said. “My mother always said, that a good teacher — and she was probably the wisest person I ever knew — must first be compassionate and then must know and love his or her subject. David, of course, fulfilled both those criteria because he was a natural born athlete who excelled at many sports. He knew all the pitfalls of every sport, all the hard parts, and how to get students through them, you know, and how to build that team, and how to work with an individual, and how to find the strength of each individual.”
Carol’s mother encouraged David to study physical education at McGill University, and off he went. As the story goes, Bryan Murray was wrapping up his time as a phys. ed. teacher and Principal David MacKenzie asked Carol, who was a part-time art teacher at the time, if she knew of anyone who could fill the position. They talked, and when David came to pick up Carol from the school, Principal MacKenzie rushed out and hired him on the spot.
Both David and Carol taught at PHS for over three decades.
Among their students was their son Phillip. He recalled being in his father’s classes, and having him as a coach too. But in the classroom, David wasn’t “dad,” but teacher, showing no favouritism and treating everyone equally. That was something Phillip admired about him.
“He was always nervous that he would seem like he was favouring me because he never wanted to have a favorite,” Phillip said. “He always thought it was really important to treat the kids — and all people — fairly.
“He wasn’t loud or gregarious. He was calm, and he was fair as a teacher. And I think his students felt safe, same kind of being being around him because of that fairness. They knew what to expect,” he added.
Carol echoed the fact: “Another thing that made him a good coach and teacher was he was a very good listener. He listened to everyone equally, and he never judged. He treated everybody equally.”
Phillip, though not a competitive athlete, enjoyed partaking in various sports in school, some of which his father coached. He recalled playing badminton with David, and never scoring a single point on his old man.
Phillip himself has followed in his parents’ footsteps and has been a teacher at PHS for 15 years. After returning to the school last year, he had a difficult time revisiting the gym where he made so many memories with his father. However, Phillip makes sure to approach his students with the same mindset as David.
“Every day I try to remember the kind of teacher he was, and hope that I could give some of that safety, that kind of feeling that you’re talking to a student in a safe way and in a respectful way,” he said. “It was always, ‘Listen, I want to respect you and I want you to respect me’ and there’s no ‘I’m looking down at you.”’ I try to emulate that.”
Both Carol and Phillip remember that while David — along with his good friend and fellow inductee John Petty — played a huge part in the development of PHS’s athletics, he also supported the school community in other ways, from working the sounds systems for dances to chaperoning trips to the opera. He understood that not everyone was an athlete, and made every effort to connect in other ways.
“He loved farming, he loved talking to a kid in the hallway about, you know, Jimi Hendrix or talking to a kid in the hallway about cattle, about basketball,” Phillip said. “He showed that he was genuinely interested in his students.”
“David felt that everybody should have something that they could be really good at, so that some everybody else could say you’re really good at that. So he always looked for what would make a person shine, and he worked on that,” Carol recalled.
Countless appreciative notes poured in from past students when they learned their beloved teacher had been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I can remember a student … coming up to me and saying, ‘You know, when your husband, Mr. Holmes, when he walked into the room, you knew everything was gonna be okay,’” Carol said. “He was a good guy, and sorely missed … People, not just in school, but people within the community really loved David.”
“I’m proud of him. I’m really proud of my dad,” said Phillip. “He gave a lot to the school. It was his life and he really cared about his students and he cared about athletics in the school. He cared about his colleagues, and he really cared about the space. And it’s nice that he was recognized for that.”
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