Retiring professor a familiar face for 41 years

Retiring professor Hugh Gayler, says a colleague, is "cheeriness personified."

Retiring professor Hugh Gayler, says a colleague, is "cheeriness personified."

A professor who has helped shape Brock’s Geography department for more than 40 years has retired.

Hugh Gayler became a professor emeritus this spring. He will continue research in his areas of urban geography and urban planning, but he retired from teaching in January.

Gayler has been an important part of making the department what it is today, said Michael Ripmeester, department chair. That includes serving as an undergraduate adviser and three terms as chair, as well as sitting on various committees around campus.

“Hugh has never shied away from making himself available for students, colleagues, the University or the community,” said Ripmeester, who describes his fellow professor as “gracious and kind” with a personality that fills the department.

“Hugh is cheeriness personified.”

Gayler arrived at Brock in 1969, four years after the formation of the Geography department. Then 27 years old, the native of Colchester, England was appointed the same year as Alun Hughes and two other professors.

Excursions in London

Part of Gayler’s legacy is a London field trip course that has happened 10 times from 1992 to 2008. The course’s walking tour allows students to experience the city’s history, culture and geographical landmarks up close. It has resulted in two major papers and the 1996 book Geographical Excursions in London. He and a former student are working on a second edition.

Gayler has written two books, edited another and published numerous papers and book chapters. But he cites student progress as the most rewarding part of his career.

“I like when you can literally see them progress over the period of a few weeks,” he said. “They are literally sponges absorbing the stuff.”

Retirement will be anything but dull for Gayler. He is working on a book about Niagara’s planning history. He is also incoming chair of Chorus Niagara, a group he’s been involved with for 40 years.

He will also work as an international tour leader for a national tour company, a job that will take him to Jordan and Egypt this year and Russia in 2012. An avid train lover, he plans to travel from Vancouver to Toronto by train and set up a model railroad in his home.

“I will not be bored in any way, shape or form,” he said. “I’m even excited to do some of the reading that I haven’t been able to do. I can pick and choose what I want to do and when I want to do it to suit my mood. If I don’t want to do research that day, I’ll sit with a book and a cat in my lap.”

Gayler will miss the interaction with colleagues – the “daily shot in the arm” he gets from exchanging ideas. He’ll miss the lunch hour euchre parties. His legacy will live on in the form of the Hugh Gayler Geography Field Trip bursary for students participating in the third-year compulsory field trip.

“I wanted to do it to help students, and as a thank you to Brock for a great life here,” he said.

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