History | Wm. Foley remembers John Cowan | Back

An edited transcription of a page 12 article in the 25 Jun 1931 Simcoe Reformer, the bulk of which is a letter to the editor written in 1909.

W. T. Foley recalls Early Days 
in Simcoe Schools
Saginaw, Michigan
18 Jun 1931
Dear Mr. Editor,
Digging today in my garden of Ancient History, I exhumed the enclosed communication that was written by me more than 22 years ago. 
No doubt some of the old boys like me still on the surface of the earth within the reach of The Reformer would be glad to read my testimony to the worth of our dear old friend, Johnny Cowan, and if need be, to corroborate it.
It would give me the greatest pleasure if some of them were prompted by my example to tell the present generation something of his three grand brother pedagogues who held high sway over us in the brave days of old. 
With kindest memories.
Yours Faithfully,
W. T. Foley
William T. Foley
Saginaw, Michigan
5 Feb 1909
"Of manners gentle, of affections mild
In wit, a man; simplicity a child,
A safe companion and an easy friend,
Beloved in life, lamented in his end.
I have read with much interest the letter of my old friend, Mr. McIntosh, on the teachers in the Schools of Simcoe and the adjacent Townships in earlier days.
I served my apprenticeship in the Union School at Simcoe, and have no word but a good word to say of any of the teachers. My studies were begun under Miss Hayes, and I passed on upstairs and through the hands of Mr. Donly, Mr. Courtlandt, Dr. Kelly and Mr. Cowan, all good men and true -- until the summit of glory was reached in the room on the north east corner where I came face to face with one who, in my notion, was the King of all the head masters that ever ruled a school, Reverend John Gelstone Mulholland, M.A., T.C.D.
It is true, as Mr. McIntosh says, that [Rev. Mulholland] had a peppery temper, but who came in for a taste of its quality? Not the dull plodder who found the way to learning a hard road to travel; not the average boy who came prepared. A cheery word and a pat on the back were their portions. The boy who felt the sting of that caustic tongue was the clever boy whose cleverness did not suffice, by dint of an eleventh hour five minutes' glance through the handy glossaries at the back of the Luchan and Sallust that we used in those days, to deceive the sharp eyes or the sharper intellect of a Classical Master from Trinity College, Dublin. But I must not let the flood of old memories run away with my pen, for it is not of the Reverend John Gelstone Mulholland, M.A., T.C.D., that I have sat down to write.
I wish to sing the praises of a lesser light in the scholastic firmament, but for all that, none the less a man of parts. There are readers of the Reformer who never had the pleasure of acquaintance with Mr. John Cowan, and it is the fear that they may gather from my good friend's letter a wrong impression of his life and character that prompts me to take the liberty of writing these lines. For I think that Mr. McIntosh (innocently enough, of course) has failed to do exact justice to the memory of John Cowan.
A man's estimate of his neighbor depends to a great extent on the relations they hear one to another and the degree of intimacy that exists between them. Mr. McIntosh knew Mr. Cowan probably only as a fellow teacher in a large building where a dozen or more teachers and several hundred pupils were assembled daily. Both were fully occupied in the pursuit of an arduous profession. When they met they simply passed the time of day and went each man his own way, and there were meager opportunities for the cultivation of closer friendship. At least, that is the way I figure it out.
Now, in common with scores of others, through a period of years (with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays) I spent six hours of every day in Mr. Cowan's company in the confidential relation of a pupil to his master. And it gives me pleasure to say that a more pains-taking teacher, a kindlier man or a better friend no boy need wish to meet. As for his standing in the community, I know that he was always welcome in my father's house, and, as far as I can remember, in every home in town. He was a diffident man -- almost bashful. But he was a man of wide information, with the ready pawky wit of the well bred Scotchman; the best of good company; and the boys held him in high esteem.
Ben Mulkins was my crony, and we shared one seat. Often, even to this day, as I walk the streets, "chewing the cud of sweet and bitter thought," I can hear a firm but gentle voice speak up and say, with a slight Scottish burr, "William and Benjamin out on the floor." It is good and pleasant to remember the lack of fear with which we obeyed the order and the whimsical, crooked smile and twinkling eye with which the old taddle-buck would survey us the while he tried to look stern.
So much for good, old Johnny Cowan. It may be perchance, that he did not scatter the bawbees with a lavish hand. I fear his stipend was not very fat. But in his own proper person he was a good man, a kind man, a man of considerable learning.
"A proper man as one shall see in a summer's day."
Copyright 2012-2016 John Cardiff