71-year-old Physics student volunteering as eclipse ambassador
Stewart Patch owes a debt of gratitude to the registrar at Montreal high school.
Stewart needed a copy of his high school transcripts to get into McMaster. He couldn’t drop by in person. Stewart lived in Dundas.
It was mid-March 2020 and COVID was locking down the world. Stewart called the school, hoping yet not expecting anyone to answer. But the registrar picked up the phone. She was packing up, turning out the lights and didn’t know when she’d be back in the office. She promised Stewart she’d send over his transcripts before heading out the door.
That was easier said than done. It was an archival dig. Stewart had graduated from the high school more than 50 years ago. True to her word, the registrar sent Stewart his transcripts.
And in September 2020, Stewart began working on his bachelor of science degree at McMaster. He was 69 years old. This would be his second undergrad degree. A half-century earlier, Stewart was a freshman at Queen’s school of engineering.
“My wife Ann thought I was crazy but she was still supportive,” says Stewart about his plans to go back to school. He’d taken an early retirement package from Bell Canada in 2004 and moved from Ottawa to Dundas. While the couple had no problem filling their days, Stewart had long toyed with the idea of returning to school.
Having Mac only a bus or a walk away plus the university’s tuition-free offer for anyone 65 years of age or older sealed the deal.
Stewart could’ve audited classes but wanted the challenge of having his work evaluated. The original plan was to study abstract math at Mac. But Stewart was told he’d already covered most of the required math courses while at Queen’s. So he opted instead for a major in physics with a minor in mathematics.
Stewart found himself in classes where the students were young enough to be his grandkids. “Some of them didn’t know what to make of me but others were very friendly.”
Did being back on campus make Stewart feel young again? “No, I’m old. My brain’s slower and I have a whole different and longer set of priorities than what I had back in my early 20s.” Stewart would fit his course work and cramming for exams around never-ending home renovations.
Between classes, Stewart stakes out a carrel in the library named after the McMaster president who hired Patch’s father-in-law. “It’s a small world.”
Harry Thode hired Ronald Gillespie from University College in London to join McMaster’s department of chemistry in 1958. During his 63 years at McMaster, Ronald was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1965, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1997 and made a member of the Order of Canada in 2007. He passed away at age 96 in February 2021.
Stewart is wrapping up his undergrad degree with a research thesis project on planet formation. He’s also volunteering as a student eclipse ambassador. A call went out last spring for students to talk with community groups about the total solar eclipse. Stewart thought it sounded interesting and signed up. So far, he’s scheduled to talk at a local library and a Niagara winery that’s hosting a sold-out viewing party during the eclipse on April 8th.
He plans on being at Spring Convocation, 50 years after walking across the stage at Queen’s University to receive his first degree.
So is graduate school in his plans? “This is it. Two degrees is enough”. And there’s always more home renos to work on.Students