Shanahan, Doug Part I II

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                                                      A Teaching Legend
                                                      By Kirsten Murphy
                                         Shanahan’s Illustrious Teaching Career Span 
                            Five Decades, Seven Time Zones and Includes One Future Prime Minister

Teaching legend Doug Shanahan spins a lifetime of memories into a whirlpool of words. In a single breath, one word spills over another as he exuberantly describes his 50 year career as an educator and world traveller. "Education is like music," he declares without pausing, "it has no boundaries." From his childhood home in Nelson, he chatters about his present job as an extension program professor for the University of Moncton. As his tone and pace quickens, so do his conductor-like arm movements.

Now cruising through his 70th decade, Shanahan, has gradually reduced his teaching course load. Nevertheless, the articulate Miramichier has more to say than ever before. "Everybody is born a blank page. We spend our whole life creating ourselves and that's the whole purpose of education: self-fulfilment."

In his quest for knowledge, Shanahan's home has been overtaken by towering canyons of journals, readers, magazines, texts, manuals and novels - in total, he estimates his collection sits at 50,000 publications. "He has more books than the library," local writer Doug Underhill said with amused envy. Shanahan's brother Ralph, with whom he shares the house, has been known to keep the dining room table set for a formal dinner to protect it as a book free zone.

                                                           Knowledge is Power

Learning, Shanahan said, is like a mirror. If a book reflects a persons’ interests, then they’re more inclined to dive deeply into a subject. You need to know the author in order to know the subject,” he said. As an example, he sites William Shakespeare. In a 30 second monologue, Hamlet is reduced to a modern-day dysfunctional family. "I'm teaching the human condition. I want a person to develop intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. Otherwise a person becomes bored."

                                                      Reading between the lines

Shanahan reads people the way he reads books; quickly but carefully. It is trait he suspects he inherited from his mother, Lillian Fitzpatrick. At the age of six, the oldest son of four boys and three girls, Shanahan missed a year of school because of pneumonia. "My mother said I caught it at the circus." He spent a lot of time with his mother during that year.

Upon his recovery, he spent his winters playing hockey on his family's back yard ice rink: the Miramichi River. Some afternoons he'd rush into the house, still wearing his skates, and gulp down a bowl a soup before heading back to the ice. "I was more interested in sports. (Parents and teachers) had a hard time getting me to do my work."

He took four years of pre-med course at St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia. He discovered he had the brains, but not the stomach, to be a doctor. Graduating with a science degree in 1947, Shanahan taught college for several years before heading west to Hollywood, California where he taught for seven years.

In 1954 a tanned Shanahan returned home. He went on to earn his masters in literature from St. Thomas University in Chatham. Eight years later, with the help of a Beaverbrook scholarship, Shanahan flew across the Atlantic and studied post-graduate psychology at the University of London.

                                                         Around the world in 70 years

Travel has played an important role in Doug Shanahan's lifelong education. Travelling has provided him with an international classroom. A quick glance at his passport sends a person through seven time zones: California, London, Rome, Bethlehem, Paris and Athens. "It's a global village for me."

Although he's never married, he's been known to fall in love. "Haven't we all," he teased.

His real passion, though, lies in teaching. In fact, he admits it's something of a compulsion. And as with most compulsions, an element of excess exists.

Books aside, Shanahan owns 20 pairs of reading glasses. Each pair randomly circulates the two-storey house, so he doesn’t waste time looking for a misplaced pair.

"It's the same with books. I keep extra copies. Time is much more valuable than the cost of a book."

Eight bicycles are stored in his garage: one for everyday of the week, plus one for a rainy day. Power and telephone bills dating back five years remain neatly filed in their original envelopes outside his study. "Everything looks disorderly but it really is orderly," he insists. Even so, he too marvels at the speed with which he can quickly retrieve a book when put to the test.

Doug Shanahan is a man who reads or watches TV (A&E and the news) until 3 a.m. and instinctively wakes up at 8 a.m. each morning. He speaks with the fervor of a whirling dervish, but maintains that slow and steady wins the race. "I tell my students not to look at clocks," he said. "People are not killed in cars because they're going too slow."

                                                           Famous students

During his illustrious career, Shanahan has molded the minds of politicians, a Catholic Bishop and a Governor General award-winning author. "(Brian) Mulroney always had his hand up," he said. The future prime minister took two years of science with Shanahan at St. Thomas high school in Chatham. MLA and Speaker of the N.B. Legislature John McKay was a student of Shanahan's at Harkins high school. "He was exciting," McKay said of his teacher. "He was hired to teach biology and he spent first two weeks talking about English poets and playwrights," McKay said.

Nationally acclaimed author and Miramichier David Adams Richards, who now lives in Toronto, fondly recalls Shanahan's lessons. "He made the possibilities in life very exciting, whether he was discussing Thomas Harding or Virginia Wolfe or Picasso," Adams said. Ironically, Shanahan taught Richards science. "Everything came alive and we still managed to get our Chemistry done," Richards said.

                                                           A road well read

Shanahan's enthusiastic teaching style has won him praise and awards throughout the Miramichi. Reaching into a canvas bag he pulls out a collection of papers. With modest pleasure, Shanahan presents his 1992 Educator of the Year award. He said of all the awards he has received, this is the one of which he is most proud.

Students are still taking advantage of Doug Shanahan's skill as an educator. He teaches 20th century literature for the University of Moncton at Carrefour Beausoleil two nights a week, and he teaches a course in Bathurst once a week.

In the last year he's learned how to operate a computer and plans to jump on board internet highway. And although everyday brings something new he's delightfully content with the roots he has established.

Now that Shanahan can armchair travel by watching television and listening to the radio, Miramichi is exactly where he wants to be. “A human being doesn't have to go anywhere. You're already at the centre of the World,” he says. "I don't have to hurry because I’m already ****.

Source: Miramichi Leader – November 21, 1997


                                                        DOUG SHANAHAN
                                        Student salutes teacher, ‘master has magic touch’
                                                        By Carol Savage

I first met Doug Shanahan over 30 years ago, when I moved to the area to teach at Chatham Junior High, and along with dozens of others, started taking university courses at night school and summer school to upgrade my qualifications as a teacher.

Many of these courses were being taught on the Miramichi and in Bathurst by Doug, and it was a pleasure to take his classes. Doug made learning so enjoyable and teaching look easy – like Gretzky setting up a goal from behind the net. His lectures were filled with humour, and he made everything relevant by showing how theory was tied in with what was happening around us.

Over the next few years, largely thanks to Doug’s inspiration, I completed my BA and B. Ed degrees. And I also took a page or two out of Doug’s book when it came to teaching my own classes at Chatham Junior High and Dr. Losier. So, although I have been retired for three years and no longer “have” to take courses, when I saw the ad for Doug’s Canadian Literature course this fall, I couldn’t resist.

The old master hasn’t lost his touch. He’s still packing them in – we have a class of 24, and have to bring in extra desks and chairs every week from the next classroom. Doug is delivering his one-liners, and if occasionally he happens to throw in a politically incorrect comment, he doesn’t mind being called on it. In fact, the more lively the discussion gets, the better he likes it.

Doug’s been in the teaching business for 58 years and has taught in seven different decades: the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now the 2000’s. Way to go, Doug – keep up the good work. Thousands join me when I say: “There stands Doug Shanahan, always a giver, who personally educated half of the river.”

With great respect and affection,

Carol Savage

PS – I read this to the class Monday evening, Nov. 3. Excerpts from Brian Loggie’s Tribute to Doug Shanahan recalling his experience as one of Doug’s students at Harkins High School in the late 1960s…

What a breath of fresh air it was to enter a Doug Shanahan class in this cultural wasteland. My best friend since sixth grade, Reggie Sobey, and I were recruited to decorate the classroom walls with Doug’s large prints of the most famous collections of paintings in the world.

There was classical music to play at noon hour and books that we were told were filled with the greatest thoughts known to man. Between Doug and Reggie, I learned enough about classical art and music to last me my lifetime. What a wonderful exposure to culture for two geeky sponges hungry for experiences outside of the Miramichi.

I recall one particular day of drudgery in my final year at Harkins, filing into Doug’s biology class. We were greeted with, “Sit down, relax, I have something to read to you.” He always had something to read to us, but this day it was a short story from a kid in Grade 11. I remember thinking, “This kid can really write!” I still remember some elements of that story, which took place in a hospital. There was such a stark realism to the author’s description of the hospital room and stiff, white uniforms of the nurses.

Yes, this kid could really write. He’s still writing. This kid was David Richards. Joni Mitchell recalls her early artistic talents being validated by an elementary teacher. I’m sure David can trace his validation back to high school and back to Doug.

Yes, I got 92 per cent on my geometry matric, but it was the lessons I learned in Doug’s class that have served me well throughout my life. He’ll always be my role model, the consummate educator. Doug was in classrooms to guide and inspire, to bring the world to us through art and music and wonderful words, and to set us on a never-ending journey of discovery.

After all these years, Doug is still the one who is doing it right. I hope you’re enjoying your journey as much as I enjoyed mine. Bon voyage!

From Brian Loggie, with fond memories.

Source: Miramichi Leader – November 25, 2003

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