A passage from a new book about Neil: Neil McKenty Live! The lines are still blazing




After Neil died Catharine attended the multi-generational celebration of Regiopolis-Notre Dame High School’s 175th anniversary in October 2012.  Neil taught there in the 1950’s.  The 1954 annual yearbook shows him surrounded by the keen members of the debate team society, at ease in the book-lined, tall-shelved school library.  There is Joe Coyle the president and Ed Koen, the vice-president, with their team who have just won a prize from radio station CKWS.

”I can still visualize Neil after all these years,”  Ed remembers.  ”He was a pretty commanding personality in the classroom.  He taught us to articulate.  There was no mumbling or slurring your words, no sloppy diction.  I can still hear him pronouncing the word ‘squirrel,’ exaggerating each syllable until you could practically see the little critter scampering across the room.  I was a bit introverted.  Quite shy, having grown up on a farm 12 miles north of Kingston and gone to a one-room wooden schoolhouse.  Imagine the impact of coming to Regi with its cosmopolitan student body from all over North, Central and South America, Mexico and China.  Our football quarterback.  Palyeo Gutierrez, was later shot with all his family during the Cuban revolution.

Neil understood where I was coming from and encouraged me, pushed me along.  I can still remember the excitement of the debating society trip to Hastings, the small town where Neil had grown up.  I think we stayed in the rectory.

There were some real characters among the students, wild-oats types sent by their harried parents to shape up.  Jesuit discipline for those 40 years when they ran the school was pretty strict.  Some of the wilder students considered it much like a penitentiary.  Any noise after lights out in the dorm resulted in two hours on your knees out on the hard floor of that drafty corridor.

Neil taught us English and History.  When I was still in grade school he encouraged me and others to have a shot at preparing and trying for one of the tough Grade 13 exams, and he spent hours tutoring us to get through. I also remember one day when he was briefly out of the classroom a fellow sitting near me got fed up with the mess of old notes in the wooden drawer of his school desk and set fire to them.  The whole drawer went wildly up in flames, so he simply picked it up and calmly chucked it out of the window – luckily there were no repercussions that time.”


Neil, right, and the program director of CKWS Kingston, and the prize winning debater.


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