Speaking at the memorial celebration of Jack Pearse’s life, John Jorgenson inspired his listeners with Jack’s mission for camping. Jack lived it and with his passing, we are charged with carrying the torch.
Words Spoken by John Jorgenson at the Memorial Celebration for Jack Pearse, September 15, 2013
I would like to speak on behalf of a national and international community of camp leaders and children who have been touched by Jack’s spirit, friendship and leadership over the years.
One of Jack’s camping conference presentations discussed the function and philosophy of Camp and considered whether it ought to operate as an oasis from… or a reflection of… Society. In his conclusion, he celebrated the ‘oasis’ as a necessary part of Camp’s charm and magic. As to the latter, he suggested that Camp might better be thought of as a reflection for Society rather than a reflection of Society. If the wider world is to be become better, more caring, more considerate, more respectful, friendlier… funner… then it could learn a lot from the things that go on in a Camp.
With that in mind, Jack felt that it was important to take Camp out into the world. He made certain that we all understood that our responsibility did not end at the front gate. We ought to give freely and give often. We ought to share everything that we have learned with whoever wanted to learn it. We ought to contribute to every part of the camping movement whenever and wherever we could go and do it. He knew, and made certain that we knew, that Camp Tawingo is only successful when all camps are successful. With that in mind, service to the community of camping was a critical part of being in the Tawingo community.
As a result, first he, and then we, headed down Highway 11 to Toronto and the Ontario Camping Association, across Canada to the CCA, into the United States to the Association of Independent Camps and ACA and, finally, around the world to the International Camping Fellowship. Once Jack discovered the entire world of camping, it was just about the right size for his energy and spirit. Just about… He cherished those opportunities, contacts and friends. He celebrated them and served them whenever he could. Those ripples of service go on and on and on…
Last April, I was in Artek International Children’s Centre in the Ukraine. It is a massive government-run camp and educational complex. I was there over twenty years after Jack had visited it during the Soviet era. Participating in a welcome program for over 300 children who were arriving that day and watching the variety show put on by the staff with high tech lighting, music and dance numbers, I was suddenly struck by something familiar… The entire staff broke into a techno-beat re-mix version of Dum Dum Da Da and soon we were all doing the actions – the same actions that most of you know. Those children never knew Jack but that song, taught at Artek 20 years earlier, and his spirit are certainly still there today.
In Jack’s office here at Camp are many highlights of his travels … a meeting with Nancy Reagan, his address to the prince/princess of Japan, his discussions with the Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg, his songleading before the Queen of England. Equally important to him were the informal times with small groups, children, and camp staff in other countries…touring a sheep ranch/outdoor education centre on the Great Ocean Road in Australia, paddling in a YWCA camp on a little lake in central Japan, in meeting children in a camp in Cyprus, taking time to thank or share a word with a museum curator, a driver, a kitchen staff a flight attendant just about everywhere. It was in these places that he could confirm what we all now have come to understand – that people are more alike than they are different; that music is a universal language; that a smile is a key that turns almost any lock.
Jack was always encouraging others, always discussing, motivating, cajoling, inspiring camping leaders to make their own kind of difference. The ICF, under his leadership, shaped the camping movements in dozens of countries that did not know that they even had a camping movement until Jack showed them. In the countries that did know, he reminded them of the things that are most important about our work – that the fundamental truths of honesty, caring, and love will always trump new trends, new gadgets, new specializations. The magic of Camp is as simple as humming a tune, as fundamental as walking along a path with a friend, as pure as nature itself.
Hundreds of former campers, students and team members have been touched, inspired, motivated and influenced by Jack’s attention and love of camping and learning. As a result, they are making a difference and those ripples go on and on…
“So go play your part – each of you. You have a unique opportunity to teach and guide and direct and influence a lot of campers [in the seasons ahead]. I would like to thank you – in advance – for the super job I know that you are going to do.”
On Sunday September 15, 2013, hundreds of members of the camping community gathered at Camp Tawingo near Huntsville, Ontario to celebrate the remarkable life of Jack Pearse.
When grey skies and the threat of rain dictated an indoor venue rather than the outdoor chapel setting, hundreds of Camp Tawingo alumni, camping colleagues, friends and family packed the spacious Tawingo dining hall. The large crowd from toddlers to seniors listened, laughed and sang accompanied by the Boys’ Camp Band. We heard Jack’s children, grandchildren, current campers, present and former camp staff and University of Waterloo colleagues describe the many and varied accomplishment of “The Great Chief’s” eighty-seven years. From their own unique perspective, each speaker shared interesting and inspiring stories of Jack’s personal and professional life revealing his profound influence on each of them. Jack’s younger son, Mike, “the Pretty Good Chief” began, “Today we hold Council to remember, honour and celebrate the full and extraordinary life of Jack Pearse…Jack’s life mattered to all of us and to thousands of others the world over.”
We learned that Jack founded Camp Tawingo fifty-three years ago. His marriage to his wife Helen spanned sixty-four years. His daughter, Judy, told us that two days into the start of a university term, Jack knew the name of all seventy students in his class. As a song-leader, he shared the stage with Peter and Paul (Mary was home sick!) and performed for Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and First Lady, Nancy Regan. Songs that he taught in the Ukraine twenty years ago are still sung today by young Russian campers.
Jack served as the President of the Ontario Camps Association, the Canadian Camping Association, the Association of Independent Camps, the Canadian Chapter of YMCA Retirees and as Chair of the International Camping Fellowship. In addressing Jack’s contribution to camping internationally, John Jorgenson shared Jack’s challenge to camping leaders “to take camping out into the world and give of ourselves freely and often.” For our own camps are strong and successful when all camps are successful. May all camps continue to grow strong as all campers strive to follow Jack’s outstanding example and keep singing Jack’s songs.
Let there always be a song, a song down in your heart
Let there always be a song a song down in your heart
When you sing you say like is good today
So keep singing till we meet again.