Educator receives posthumous honour
Submitted photo Champlain High School graduate John Geyssen was a pioneer behind the University of New Brunswick's study abroad program. Over his 19 years as a professor, Dr. Geyssen became a popular fixture at the university. This photo was taken during a Rome study abroad trip.
A former Champlain High School graduate made his mark as a well loved university professor and classic literature educator.
In honour of John Geyssen’s contribution to classic literature over the last 19 years the Classical Association of Canada awarded the professor the 2012 Award of Merit this past May. However, John was a posthumous recipient as the 49-year-old professor was laid to rest last summer.
Over the years, the local high school graduate became very popular with his students inside and outside of the classroom at University of New Brunswick (UNB). He was also well liked by his colleagues.
“He was more than someone who gave a lecture in class, he gave more,” said good-friend and colleague Dr. Gary Waite, UNB chairman of the history department.
Dr. Waite met John back in 1992 when he arrived at the university, but it was during a 2005 study trip abroad where the men became good friends.
“John taught Latin, culture and history, classic period, ancient Rome literature and poetry,” explained Dr. Waite.
His love for ancient civilization led John to help create the department’s overseas study programs to Italy, Greece and Turkey. He was also the co-editor of the scholarly journal Mouseion.
“To be the editor of a journal shows somebody as an active scholar,” noted Dr. Waite.
Dr. Waite described the well-liked professor as a quiet man who was always available to help his students.
“He was patient, especially with the students,” said Dr. Waite.
In 2000 John received the Faculty of Arts Teaching Award and in 2008 the UNB Student Union Teaching Excellence Merit Award.
John arrived in Laurentian Valley with his family in June 1976. The family left the congested busy city lifestyle of Oakville for a quieter life in the country.
John’s parents Diane and John built a home in Laurentian Valley, recounted John’s sister Cheri Gagnon. The siblings spent hours together riding their bikes, watching movies and playing games.
During the fall of 1976, John began Grade 10 at Champlain High School, currently Bishop Smith Catholic High School. During their high school years Ms. Gagnon took note of John’s love of history. He enjoyed reading about the First and Second World Wars.
Towards the end of Grade 11 John met schoolmate and fellow McDonalds staff member Margaret Metzger. The teenage sweethearts would eventually marry and celebrated 29 years of marriage in 2011.
Graduating from high school in 1979, John moved on to Kingston to attend Queens University. During his time at Queens, John found a passion for Greek and Roman classic literature. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1985 and his Masters degree in 1987.
While attending Queens, John and Margaret married and welcomed their first child, Rebecca.
To obtain his Ph. D the family moved to Durham, North Carolina where John attended Duke University. While in Durham the family welcomed their second child, Sean.
In 1992 John successfully defended his doctoral thesis on Statius and the Traditions of Imperial Panegyric: A Literary Commentary of Silvae under Dr. Francis Newton.
After defending his thesis John was offered a contract teaching position at the UNB. The family packed up and headed east where John became a fixture in the university’s arts department and where he eventually become the chairman.
In June 2011 the 49-year-old succumbed to a heart attack and passed away. John died just over two years and six months after his dad, who suffered a heart attack in 2009.
Outside of the classroom John was a devoted husband and father and enjoyed traveling, sports, especially watching the Duke Blue Devils basketball team and the Philadelphia Eagles football team.
He also enjoyed spending time with his friends, fine wine, food, art, music and literature collections.
“It was a shock. A loss to lose someone in the middle of a career,” said Dr. Waite. “Students at all levels miss him. His colleagues miss him. I miss him.”
John, a father of two and husband of 29 years, left his mark on thousands of students at the university where he taught for 19 years.
Cyndi Mills is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist