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Why I Give: Phyllis Webster

Thu. Oct. 12, 2023

Phyllis Webster in 1994 and 2023

(Left-side image courtesy of the 1994 edition of Tric Tics)

For anyone flipping through their old Collegiate yearbook, Phyllis Webster is an easy faculty member to spot. Often seen sporting one of her many hats with basket in hand, her consistent presence in the halls of The Collegiate helped guarantee numerous appearances across every edition of the “Tric Tics” yearbook from 1987 through to 2008.

A passionate educator defined by her love of teaching, her pet rabbit stories, and The Collegiate itself, Phyllis often looks back fondly on her career at Wesley Hall, “They were the 21 most spectacularly wonderful years of my life! What’s not to love when you’re surrounded by colleagues who were specialists in their field and would readily help both you and your students with difficult subjects, CBC broadcasters and journalists who I could invite to class, a great library, and a host of other beautiful spaces on campus that encouraged faculty members and students to be the best you could be.”

A spirited instructor who developed a penchant for travel early in her career, Phyllis began teaching abroad soon after finishing her undergraduate degree in British Columbia. The first and most memorable of her overseas assignments took place at an all-girls high school near Capetown, South Africa. “My experience in South Africa during the 1960s at the height of Apartheid had a lasting effect on me as an individual and educator,” says Phyllis. “Opportunities for students of colour were few and far in-between. When I returned in 2001, I was able to teach black South Africans—something I would not have been allowed to do some 35 years earlier.”

Spurred by her experience in Africa, Phyllis continued to travel and develop her teaching skills abroad, teaching in both Australia and the United Kingdom before returning to Canada. After joining The Collegiate community in the late 1980s, Phyllis notes that she and her fellow faculty members were encouraged to travel as part of their professional development. “During breaks in the schoolyear, The Collegiate was keen on having faculty members teach abroad. Learning how different countries approached education and bringing those perspectives back to our classrooms at Wesley was one of the most enjoyable and enriching parts of my tenure. Thanks to The Collegiate, I had the opportunity to go back to South Africa where my career began, learn Spanish and spend time at a school in Costa Rica. After retirement, I did the same in Argentina.”

As a literature teacher, it should come as no surprise that Phyllis helped create and mentor Mindscape, a literary magazine for art, poetry, and short stories. Phyllis was a dedicated member of the campus community, sitting on the Library Committee, The Collegiate Union, and the University Senate. “I was able to be the teacher I wanted to be,” says Phyllis. “We had the freedom we needed as faculty members to develop outside the classroom and take part in campus activities we felt were important. The Collegiate also grew a great deal while I was there—we went from hosting grade 11 and 12 students only to a fully-fledged high school with grades 9 through 12.”

When asked about her interests as a donor, Phyllis credits The Collegiate’s role as an international institution and its support of student individuality as the key factors that have influenced her generosity over the years. “The Collegiate remains focused on providing student-focused programing…from basketball players to ballet dancers. Few places offer the high level of support needed to cater to the diverse needs and interests found in our student population.”

As a pre-retirement project in 2007, she and her students helped raise $3000 of the $15,600 needed to support the deployment of Wesley—a Belgian Malinois trained to sweep for leftover mines planted during the war in Bosnia. A joint project that saw students and faculty members working together to fund the dog’s deployment—with one eager student raising money by way of improving his math grade from a B to an A, and collecting pledges from his family, friends, and teachers after successfully completing his promise.

The most recent initiative Phyllis has supported is The Collegiate Alumni Association Endowment Fund. Launched in November of 2022, the endowment seeks to “create new alumni programs, events and activities designed to nourish alumni pride and enhance affiliation with The Collegiate.” As an early supporter of the fund, Phyllis comments, “I want alumni to have the opportunity to learn more about their beloved institution, partake in activities, and stay up to date on important developments. I still follow many of my past students online, and I think it’s important for those of us who have graduated or retired to stay in touch and give what we can to make sure our community stays united.”

Before closing Phyllis says, “Wesley Hall is one of my favourite buildings and places to be. When I first began teaching, I told myself that the day I looked up at the front façade of the castle and did not get excited will be the day I should ask to retire, and though I eventually retired, that day never came.” After 15 years of retirement, she still misses the excitement of the classroom, her colleagues, and beautiful Wesley Hall.