A Remembrance of Brandon Conron

When Alfred Brandon Conron retired from the English Department of the University of Western Ontario in 1975, he was already in his thirtieth year of service to the University in a variety of roles both administrative and professorial. More than that, from the day of our registration in the Fall of 1937, he spoke with the utmost confidence of the University as his intellectual home and his career. We met on that first day, and thereafter steadily became firm, and then firmer friends. From that day to this he, later he and Caroline, and I, later Morley and I, were, as he so truly wrote in a tribute on my retirement, fixed points of security, one for the other, in a changing world.

     More than anyone I have ever known, Brandy was university-immersed from the day of his arrival at Western. His father, Matthew Conron, was a Philosophy M.A. and a minister of the Methodist, then the United Church, at the time of our freshman year in 1937-38 serving Beecher United Church in London. Brandy was especially devoted to his father, admiring and emulating his learning and, on the practical level, acting as his driver, so that when Mr. Conron did not need the car, Brandy had it, an enormous bonus in that day for him and for his friends. He talked a great deal about his father's learning and his library and was himself already versed in the classics of English literature, certainly the only freshman I have heard of who had already read the whole of Paradise Lost! We took many classes together, for in those days all the honours classes were very small groups, select groups we thought, and because the faculty was still minimal, repeatedly under the eyes of the same few professors. Thus we shared in the delight of Tammy (Dr. Tamblyn, the Head of the English Department) in his own Shakespearean readings, truly a tour de force, for he went from Falstaff to King Lear without shattering our suspension of disbelief. We silently commiserated with Evelyn Albright, a widow whose husband Brandy's father had known in France where they both served as chaplains in 1915, and applauded her for a love of reading Chaucer as skilfully as Tammy read Shakespeare. Frank Stiling was the junior member of the Department at that time, a Romantics enthusiast and sometimes purveyor of the tantalizingly racy bits of scandal that swirled about his colourful poets. And Bert Spenceley, who taught everything from Anglo-Saxon to Canadian literature with equal assurance and clarity, was the object of unstinted and somewhat awe-struck admiration. Unlike most students in those far-off days, Brandy had absolutely no hesitation about approaching professors, and before our first term was over, he had become a regular visitor to the offices of Professors Ralph and Robson, the cornerstones of the Classics department, two men who were to play major parts in his future, both as academic advisors and, steadfastly to their deaths, as friends. While the rest of us chose French or German as our minor fields, Brandy speedily became a devotee of Greek and Latin. Later, working on his post-war Ph.D. at Harvard in Comparative Literature, he was directed by George Sherbourn and Harry Levine in a dissertation on Matthew Prior, an important figure in that most "classical" of English literary periods, the eighteenth century.

     The skies darkened for all of us when war was declared in 1939, and for Brandy it was a foregone conclusion that he would enlist in London's First Hussars—the idea of a tank regiment intrigued him, for he had worked in a garage in Burford as a teenager and was already a practised mechanic and a skilful—and fast—driver. He left Western for the army in January 1940 and came to our Convocation in June in uniform from Camp Borden. From that time on we corresponded, and, from the fall of 1940 on, his letters were a precious connection to army life overseas. Because his father had been incapacitated by the effects of a severe stroke, I was listed with his mother as next-of-kin when the First Hussars landed on the Normandy beach on D-Day. Brandy was wounded that day and evacuated to England, but on recovery he did not report to a convalescent hospital, as ordered, but rather used his ingenuity and determination to get back to Normandy and the regiment. He was paraded before General Crerar and reprimanded, but on the personal level the General commended him. He was shortly promoted to Major, given command of a tank squadron and in due course awarded the D.S.O.. He survived the entire D-Day to VE-Day campaign and arrived for demobilization in Toronto in January 1946. That winter encapsulates many of our happiest memories as our three-room Toronto flat became a drop-in centre for our returning friends, reunions of rejoicing inevitably mixed with mourning for those who had not returned.

     Brandy lost no time in getting back to Western and taking up a teaching career, beginning that very winter term, in particular working on an M.A. in Classics and planning his graduate career at Harvard. In our final two undergraduate years, we had done a great deal of studying together, memorizing poetry for exam use, and fantasizing about having our own ideal university. The War had been disastrous and unutterably tragic; but for the fortunate it also opened out hitherto undreamed of opportunities. In the Fall of 1942, newly married, with Morley stationed as a meteorologist at the Service Flying Training school in Dauphin, Manitoba, I had been thrilled to be hired by Dr. Floyd Maine of Western's Extension Department to teach English 20, the Department's basic survey course, to servicemen and women there. In 1939 Harvard was beyond our imaginings—in 1946, for Brandy, with his record of military and academic distinction it was the logical and fortunate choice, and one put within reach by a scholarship. It was also only a short time before the crowning good fortune of his life began to unfold, his meeting and courting of Caroline Spencer, the daughter of General Spencer of the First Hussars. Their wedding in the sum mer of 1949 was then and remained always a highlight of happiness, a benchmark among marriages to all who knew them.

     The Western that Brandy returned to shortly became very different from the Western that we had known. Dr. Tamblyn retired and was replaced by Arthur Jewitt, a dynamic Head more than ready to salute a new day for the University. In due course, Dr. Sherwood Fox was succeeded as President by the even more dynamic Edward Hall. The late 'forties and 'fifties were wonderful times for young men with ambition, brains and a good military record, and Brandy had a large share of all three. It was not long until he was attracted by the administrative side of academic life, and, though he loved teaching and was very good at it, he seized, or made for himself, a good many opportunities to make his name in an ever-expanding Western. On the building side, he presided over the planning and erection of Middlesex College and became its first Principal. On the academic side, he and his friend and colleague, Murdo MacKinnon, another vital addition to the post-war Department, initiated many high-spirited, adventurous projects and were instrumental in assembling and deploying an enthusiastic group of scholars and teachers who gave Western's English Department a name to be reckoned with across Canada. The decade of the 'fifties saw the beginning of the grand yearly gathering we call "The Learneds," and Brandy was much involved in showcasing Western's role in the embryonic organization of today's ACCUTE. Finally, and of the most lasting importance to his academic career, in the early 'sixties he joined Carl Klinck, whom Arthur Jewitt had brought from Waterloo Lutheran (Wilfrid Laurier) to Western in 1947, in teaching and researching in the field of Canadian literature.

     Brandy came back from his first term at Harvard bearing the germ of the "publish or perish" news to Western. I remember him as being obsessed by the need for research and publication for every academic at a time when the received wisdom was that every faculty member was expected to be productive in two out of the three areas of teaching, administration, and research. It was not long before he and Carl joined with Guy Sylvestre to write and publish Canadian Writers/Ecrivains canadiens (1964), a valuable biographical dictionary in a still minimally cultivated field. They also joined their interests in the newly minted Commonwealth field, leading Brandy to participate in the "Unity in Diversity" conference hosted by Leeds University in 1964. Coincidentally, just at that time Joseph Jones, a Commonwealth enthusiast from the University of Texas, was enlisting likely writers for the Twayne series of World Authors, and when he recruited Brandy to write a volume on Morley Callaghan he began a research interest that eventually developed into two books and a lifelong friendship. The Twayne volume was published in 1966, and in 1975, Morley Callaghan appeared in the McGraw Hill-Ryerson series of critical, collections on Canadian writers. Perhaps even better than the publishing satisfaction that these works brought were a close and continuing association of wives and families. Brandy's chapter on the essay in the first edition of the Literary History of Canada (1965) must also be counted among his major works.

     In 1975 he retired from teaching, but by no means from his activities on behalf of Western, for he became a member of the Board of Governors in the same year, and subsequently served as its chairman. Nor did he stop writing, as the revised history of the First Hussars and the history of the London Hunt Club testify. There were also many shorter articles, the last one, written just before his final illness in 1993, a biographical tribute to Carl Klinck, a warmly sensitive obituary article for the Royal Society of Canada and Canadian Poetry.

     Brandy was a man of many talents and he will be remembered for many different facets of his varied and productive life. His friends will remember gratefully his and Caroline's steadfast partnership; we who knew him have been blessed by the talent for lasting friendship that made Brandy so strong a support and, as well, so formidable an adversary in impassioned argument. We will also remember always his sturdy religious faith, tried, tested and established long ago: as an undergraduate he loved to quote Browning's "Bishop Blougram's Apology":

Just when we are safest, there's a sunset touch,
A fancy from a flower-bell, someone's death,
A chorus ending from Euripides
And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
As old and new as nature's self,
To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
                        . . . . some way must be,—
Once feel about, and soon or late you hit
Some sense, in which it might be after all.
Why not, "The Way, the Truth, the Life"?

Clara Thomas