Ontario Alumni Dinner — November 4, 2011
This year the alumni again gathered at the National Club for our ninth annual dinner, and it is also 60 years since Les Colhoun began the group in Toronto, so it was particularly pleasing that he and his wife, Heather, could attend.
After the reception preceding the dinner, the evening began with a welcome and introductory remarks from John Payne. There has been a change in the Alumni Office, with Jennifer Taaffe moving to New York to set up Trinity North America, a branch of Trinity Foundation, a move that we hope may bring some benefits to the Toronto group. The International University Clubs of Toronto (IUCT), to which our alumni group belongs, continues to offer a wide range of events and activities and these are circulated to our alumni and posted on the website. Thanks go to Bruce Buttimore who continues to take the lead in coordinating our efforts with these events as well as managing our website.
In the recent months there have been three losses that have saddened us all, Dr. R.B. McDowell, Peter Hearn, and Jimmy Smith. Much has been said and written about RBM and some reminiscences sent by our alumni were read out. Peter Hearn was a long time supporter of our group and well remembered as one of the few scholars in our midst, and as such he had the job of saying the graces at the dinner each year. He was described as "a very fine, modest man", enjoying his family and with a commitment to hospital services. A memorial service was held at the end of October in Trinity College Chapel, University of Toronto.
The most recent loss was Jimmy Smyth, who was known to many, particularly as an interesting and engaging character with a wealth of life experiences to tell in his uniquely entertaining way. He gave the thank you to the speaker at the end of one of the dinners some years ago and enthralled the audience with his recollections of Dublin. He had an interesting career in the British Civil Service in Nigeria and the Cameroons and received an OBE in 1962. Afterwards he emigrated to New Liskeard and where he taught history until he retired. There will be a reception to honour his life at New Liskeard Golf Club on Saturday November 19, 2011 from 2-5 p.m.
The dinner began with the toast to Canada proposed by John Payne followed by Ed O’Flanagan who gave a poetic toast to Ireland. The graces were said by Ray Wiley who, recognizing that we had a gap to fill, gamely volunteered to step up. Trevor Williams gave the toast to Trinity and added some more recollections of RBM.
Our guest speaker was Mr. Peter Levitt and his address was a first for the group as it took the form of an illustrated presentation. Peter was born in Cheshire, educated in England and received a degree in Economics from Cambridge. His father attended TCD. After qualifying as Chartered Accountant and spending a few years working in England, he migrated to Canada in 1969. He spent a brief period on Bay Street and then became a Federal civil servant in Toronto till retirement eleven years ago.
His presentation described, with many contemporary black and white photographs, his experiences on an incredible journey during the early part of his life and was entitled "The Sinking of the Zamzam in April 1941 and a Personal Story". He was a child on this Egyptian passenger ship in World War II, which was carrying his sister and his mother from NY to South Africa, with many Americans, women and children, when it was sunk by the famous German raider, the “Atlantis”, in the South Atlantic. They were all picked up by the Germans, transferred to another ship and landed in France five weeks later. The Americans were freed, but Peter and his family and others were interned and after 20 months of captivity in German prisons and much travelling, freed through Turkey as part of a prisoner exchange. He then journeyed through to Haifa, on to Cairo and then on a Sunderland flying boat to Khartoum and eventually to Durban where they were reunited with his father whom he had not seen for two and half years.
The ship, the " Zamzam ", and the voyage are quite famous and were widely recorded in the US media, including Life Magazine. Peter has recently published a book about his experiences and has been interviewed by Steve Paikin.
The evening concluded with Doug Saunders thanking Peter on behalf of the Ontario Alumni.
Thanks are due to John Cary for handling all the detailed arrangements with the National Club and to Bill McConnell and Bruce Buttimore for help with the general organization. Also, special thanks to Katharine Payne for taking care of the registrations on the night.