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Fred and Gerry: 100+ years of experience

Fred MacWilliam and Gerry Davies have watched Algoma University and Sault College grow since the 1960s
Fred MacWilliam and Gerry Davies, recently retired, have a century of teaching experience between them. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Between the two of them, Fred MacWilliam and Gerry Davies have a total of 103 years of teaching experience. Both recently retired from Algoma University after long and successful careers. 

Fred, 76, retired as an Algoma University mathematics instructor last summer with 54 years of experience in teaching mathematics at the high school and university levels. Gerry, 73, officially retired from Algoma University on Jan. 1 with 49 years of teaching behind him.

In their careers, Fred and Gerry witnessed the beginnings and growth of both Algoma University and Sault College. Algoma began as Sudbury-based Laurentian University’s Algoma University College campus located in portables at Sault College in the 1960s. Sault College began as Sudbury-based Cambrian College’s Sault campus, also in the 1960s. 

Fred, a Sudbury native, was educated at Laurentian University in mathematics and chemistry when it was situated in an office building, an old converted funeral home and in a space above a movie theatre set aside for labs. He then earned a Bachelor of Education (BEd) from Nipissing, as well as Masters degrees from the University of Waterloo and University of Victoria.

Fred taught within Ontario’s community college system when the colleges were known as Ontario Vocational Centres. He also taught high school in Sudbury for six years, then moved to the Sault in 1969 to work for the Sault Ste. Marie Board of Education (now the Algoma District School Board) where he was a secondary school math teacher at Sir James Dunn and Korah, before working at the board office as a curriculum coordinator until 1996.

Fred taught mathematics at Algoma University beginning in 1987 as a part-time instructor, though he taught a full course load for many years.

Fred told SooToday he is proud of many of his former students, among them a community college vice president, numerous doctors and two Crown Attorneys. 

“Those are highlights, but the joy of teaching is taking that student, picking he or she up where they are in their mathematical ability, and bringing them up to where they can be.”

Some of us can remember our parents helping us with our math homework and remarking on the difficulties of ’new math.’ These days, the next generation of parents are likewise commenting on another type of ‘new math’ currently being taught in schools.

“Every time there’s an election and you get a new party in, they appoint a new Minister of Education with his or her own ideas, they’re usually half-baked, because that minister is not a teacher,” Fred said.

With that thought in mind, Fred added he felt David Orazietti, former Sault MPP, should have been allowed to serve as Minister of Education because of his own teaching background.

“In India, where the great mental mathematicians come from, and China also, a lot of math is learned by memorization and rote, they can do more in their heads than most people with a calculator,” Fred said. 

Although he retired from the classroom, he still teaches courses online for Ontario Learn. And, his personalized licence plate still reads IMATHMAN.

Gerry Davies began his teaching career as an electrical engineering instructor before getting into computer science, and taught at Kingston’s Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) and Sault College before his time at Algoma.

Gerry, a Saskatchewan native, graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in 1964 with a degree in electrical engineering. He served in the army and lectured in RMC’s physics department while he did his Master’s degree.

“I realized I liked teaching more than preparing for war,” Gerry told us.

Ontario’s community college system was starting up in the 1960s, so Gerry left teaching at RMC and arrived at Sault College in 1970. He began teaching electronics and developing a computer engineering program, also working in management as information technology co-director.

“When I started at the college it was just developing, everything was new and there was a spirit of entrepreneurship,” Gerry said.

He is proud to have developed Sault College’s Information Technology Studies department.

“Its graduates have had excellent success, they’re managers at OLG and the steel plant...I play pool once a week in the OLG league with two of my students from Sault College who are teachers there now,” Gerry said.

“I keep in touch with quite a few graduates. That’s really gratifying.”

He began teaching computer science at Algoma University in the late 1990s. As with Sault College, computer studies have come a long way at Algoma University.

“When I first started teaching computers we had key punch machines,” Gerry said.

While still with Sault College, Gerry worked to get Algoma’s computer studies up and running.

“When we first got a big modem (for the former Algoma University College in the early 1980s), it was to go into the top floor of Shingwauk Hall, and when it arrived they couldn’t get it up the stairs.”

There was no elevator at Algoma University in those days.

“They phoned me and they made arrangements to hire a crane, and they put it in through the window of the top floor at Shingwauk Hall.”

“It’s been invigorating (to see Algoma University grow),” Gerry said.

“The most satisfaction I got at Algoma University was when we started the accelerated second degree in computer science.”

Because computers have changed so much over the years, Gerry said he has had to constantly learn as well as teach.

Fred and Gerry have known each other since the early 1980s. 

“We would often sit and solve the world’s problems,” Fred said.

“We always had a very close-knit department (at Algoma University),” Gerry recalled.

Fred, a married father of four with several grandchildren, bowls twice a week and sings with Christ Church choir, and continues to teach math courses online.

Gerry, a married father of two children and grandfather of two, plans  on spending time with family, playing pool in the winter and golf in the summer months.

The two retirees told SooToday they intend to stay in touch, as they love swapping pulp fiction books with each other.