By Martin Cleary
Barrie Laughton had many important titles – husband, father, grandfather, teacher, coach, counsellor – and he portrayed each one extremely well.
He had the remarkable ability to tone down life a few notches by injecting fun into many situations, making light of a student’s judgment but not ridiculing the individual, and always getting his point across in a thoughtful, caring and calm manner.
There were many occasions his quirky sense of humour would shine through as he would laugh at himself or be the instigator of yet another prank.
As a youth, Laughton played basketball, but it was his older brother Bob who made the hoops headlines in his family as a Carleton University Ravens men’s co-captain and a two-time conference champion. Barrie was on the Ravens’ roster for one year (1963-64) under second-year coach Norm Fenn, and he later supported the team as a fan.
As a long-standing academic pillar at Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Barrie excelled as the Lords boys’ volleyball coach, winning eight boys’ senior Ottawa high school championships as well as capturing the gold medal at the OFSAA AAA championships in 1970 and 1977 and the silver medal in 1971, losing to Parkdale Collegiate Institute of Toronto in the final.
Championships were always there to chase, but he wanted to make sure the student-athletes understood that learning athletic skills and teamwork had to be done in a fun, stress-free atmosphere.
“All the players really had a good time at practice and games,” recalled Larry Hale, who coached the Lisgar boys’ senior basketball team during the same era and won the OFSAA AAA title in 1974. “He was a bit of an entertainer. He made sure they had fun.”
Quite often, a number of the student-athletes played for both the volleyball and basketball teams.
Laughton, who grew up and was educated in the Glebe, passed away Aug. 24. He was three weeks shy of his 79th birthday.
A dedicated geography teacher and guidance counsellor, he served the Lisgar community for 33 years. In the summer, he held a number of leadership roles (counsellor, assistant camp director and principal for 10 years) during his 44 years at Camp Tawingo in Huntsville, ON.
As a way of remembering his life, his wife Carol and children Jeff and Jennie shared some random thoughts. His one-day visitation drew hundreds of people for the two sessions, since there was no funeral service.
Friends, family and colleagues also went to the funeral home’s website to write about Laughton. Here is a sampling of the family’s random thoughts about their husband and father (appearing in bold type) combined with some memories from his large circle of friends (appearing in italic type).
HE WAS A COMEDIAN WITH A BIG, PHYSICAL SENSE OF HUMOUR.
SANDY GRAHAM: “For many people, Barrie was a brilliant teacher, counsellor and coach. For me and my siblings, he was our favourite uncle. At staid family gatherings, Barrie would always conspire with us to poke fun at our elders and play some hilarious practical jokes. I remember on Christmas, he set up a card table on the patio at minus-20 C and pretended to eat his dinner outside, while using a banana as a telephone.”
ROSS MacDONALD: “I was lucky to have worked with Barrie, played pranks with Barrie, had pranks on me played by Barrie, laughed with Barrie and learned from Barrie. His infectious positive attitude made my summer and autumn experiences at camp even better.”
HE LOVED MUSIC AND SPORTS, ESPECIALLY THE OLYMPICS. HIS FAVOURITE TREATS – JUJUBES AND MARS BARS.
DON McMULLEN: “He was more than a teacher. He was a FRIEND. And the success he had coaching volleyball (was) incredible and remarkable, too. It was an honour being part of a team coached by Barrie. Oh, and the many trips I used to make up to the IGA on Elgin Street for some jujubes we’d enjoy at practice or during a game. A memory forever. Not to mention the one year, city championship on the line, games knotted at two apiece, we are trailing 14-8 in Game 5 and one star player (K.C. Keller) breaks an ankle. Barrie calls a timeout, gathers the team together and says basically: ‘Don’t give up, play your game.’ Game 5 goes to Lisgar with a 17-15 victory. Fifty years later, still a moment I will always remember.”
TRUDY BRADLEY: “He was very popular with Lisgar students and parents valued his advice. It was a very sad day for me when he retired from Lisgar before I did. I missed the preparations for the teachers’ performances at the assemblies and also his invaluable support for the music department. Only teachers from that era will remember the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,’ the brick on top of the principal’s new car and the orchestra/band performances in the UK, when he and Carol were chaperones.”
HE WAS ALWAYS REACHING OUT, BEING INCLUSIVE AND MINDFUL WITH A ROLODEX OF INFORMATION ABOUT OTHERS. HE ALWAYS SHOWED REAL ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
PAUL LEMELIN: “He was one of the very best human beings there has ever been. Such a great, truly great, and inclusive leader. Such a hilarious and deeply caring person, who perceived, encouraged and validated the unique qualities of every individual he encountered. He had a presence that could capture, charm and entertain an entire dining hall or crowd with a simple smile (or pretending to try not to smile), and an aura that automatically warmed any and all who were in his presence.”
HE NEVER PAID FOR A HAIRCUT, ALTHOUGH FOR MANY YEARS HE DIDN’T NEED ONE.
GRAEME CLARK: “I have very clear and fond memories of Barrie. Barrie, as section director at Tawingo, taking aside the rather shy teenager that I was then and telling me that, yes, I had a future at camp. Barrie, charming a group of nervous counsellors at the outset of a camping summer with his gently subversive humour, of which Jack, our camp director, was clearly the target, to our delight. Barrie laughing at himself, his hair or lack thereof or some aspect of his physique or athletic ability, a deeply endearing trait which, if you think about it, few leaders have.”
HE TAUGHT US THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING KIND AND RESPECTFUL.
KIKI CONDON: “I only had him for Grade 9 geography, but he was one of the nicest teachers out there. One day at the end of the year, I was reading a book in class, totally not paying attention, and I was called out on it, and he made me come up to the front to see what I was reading. It was a book about baseball, but being Mr. Laughton, he pretended to read something ‘naughty,’ making the class laugh and totally embarrassing me. He could have yelled at me, given me a detention, all kinds of things. But instead, he made fun of the situation and told me not to do it again. Lesson learned in a loving way.”
HE ALWAYS HAD A CLIPBOARD AND A GOLF CART AT CAMP.
MYRNA McBRIEN: “Barrie was always so kind to Annie and me. We have such fond memories of our esteemed principal and as a quintessential jack-of-all-trades driving around the camp in the golf cart.”
VIRGINIA DIEMERT: “Blue, blue. Green, green. White, white. Red, red. Orange, orange. In my mind, I can still hear Barrie calling the colours of the flags as the canoes crossed the line for the Ray Merinko Relay at camp.”
HE CONTINUALLY REACHED OUT TO OTHERS AND YET WAS SURPRISINGLY PRIVATE. HE WOULD RATHER TALK ABOUT OTHERS THAN ABOUT HIMSELF.
JON LOVE: “He helped me find my way when I was ‘lost’ in my adolescence and even in my early adulthood. I took geography as a major in university because I was lucky enough to have him as a geography teacher and how he made the subject interesting enough that I wanted to pursue it. I went to teachers’ college because I wanted to be just like Barrie. He told me (when I was in his classroom as a student teacher) that ‘if you make someone feel good about themselves . . . they will learn in spite of you.’ He was in many ways my big brother, my mentor, my teacher, my coach. He knew when you need ‘a hug’ and when you needed a kick in the behind. I got both.”
HUGH REID: “His influence was vast and extensive . . . his knowledge of his subject, whether geography or volleyball, his sense of humour, his dedication and hard work, but perhaps more essentially, Barrie had, in abundance, the ability to make any student feel that he was genuinely interested in him or her, that the student’s concern (and all young peoples’ concerns seem to them as perilously grave) was Barrie’s concern and that there was a solution to whatever problem or difficulty the student was facing. His concern for students and their welfare was a conviction not a fashion, and all the students perceived this.”
HE WAS DEPENDABLE AND WISE.
CATHERINE HODGINS: “He was wise and knew just how to pass his wisdom on in a manner that could be heard. I loved Barrie and feel that the light of our community has dimmed. But then I think about his legacy and I know he left the planet with much more light than is gone.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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