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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 15, Number 3, Jan./Feb. 2003

In memoriam

by Ken Novakowski

Jim Killeen was a teacher, a principal, and a leader, and he was always a colleague. Jim died in October 2002 at the age of 68, leaving behind many loving family members and good friends. He also left a rich legacy of contributions to public education and to the lives of teachers in B.C., across Canada, and around the world. Killeen served as president of the BCTF (1969–71), the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (1973–74), and the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (1982–84). He received many honours, including the BCTF’s G.A. Fergusson Memorial Award (1986). I knew Jim Killeen through annual get-togethers of past presidents of the Federation that take place during the BCTF AGM. But not until I read the many letters of recommendation in support of Jim Killeen’s nomination for the G.A. Fergusson Memorial Award did I realize the breadth and extent of his contribution to teachers and public education.

His contribution to the development of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the welfare of its members is significant. He was the first full-time president to serve two terms, and it was during his presidency and largely of his doing that the elected officers of the Federation established their role as the public spokespersons on behalf of teachers and the key decision-makers in the operation of the organization. Norm Ornes, a friend and fellow activist with Killeen, wrote, "During Jim’s presidency, the roles of those appointed to serve relative to those elected went through a gradual evolution that placed more effective power, authority, responsibility, and control in the hands of those elected."

BCTF leaders like Jim Killeen led the struggle toward the positive state of teacher pensions today. Jim led the first province-wide strike of teachers on March 19, 1971, to focus public attention on the disgraceful plight of retired colleagues. Not only did the strike help bring about improved teacher pensions, but it was also a major contributing factor to the defeat of the government in the election held the following year. The most fitting tribute to Jim Killeen’s work in education is to use the words of those who knew him and his work well. These words were written in 1986:

"But it was not just Canada’s turn at leadership of WCOTP that got Jim elected to the presidency; it was his own qualities, which have in turn enhanced Canada’s image in world teaching, especially in teacher aid to under-developed regions and in support of victims of oppression." Tom Hutchison, BCTF president 1968–69

"Few school staffs, if any, are as loyal to and supportive of their principals as are Jim’s colleagues—and that has been the case regardless of the school in which he has served. And few school principals have the affection and support of students to the degree Jim has." Ken Aitchison, BCTF president 1961–62

"All who have worked with Jim at any level admire the capable manner in which he discharged his increasing responsibilities in ever widening educational circles. They all testify to his inner sincerity, his unshakable courage, his transparent honesty, his refreshing common sense, and his never failing sense of humour." Eric Kelly, school administrator

"I share with so many who have worked closely with Jim and we shall always recall those times when things were difficult and we were despondent. The odds were heavy against us. There was a quick one-liner—the Irish wit—and we would laugh and push ahead. Jim is a true leader. He builds confidence in others." Frances Worledge, executive colleague

"Jim is a consummate politician and in the teaching game which is filled with political agendas, I can truthfully state that number one on his agenda has always been the well being of the public education system." Bill Davison, president of Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association, 1980–82

"Jim is a listener in the fullest learning sense of that word: one willing to hear, examine, reflect on what has been said, search beyond content for tone and nuance, and seek to understand what is really being communicated. Jim screens out phoniness and irrelevancies very quickly but is patient with those who are less swift than himself or hold views that differ from his own. He has a fine compassionate ear for those in need and a cynical, discerning one for the pompous, powerful, or pretentious." James Cairnie, BCTF president 1963–64

"No WCOTP president has kept himself so fully informed of the events and activities of the Confederation, or has made himself so readily available for consultation. At major WCOTP conferences in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, and on visits to member organizations from Washington to Fiji, Jim has fulfilled expectations of dynamic leadership. He has taken the message of WCOTP to the Director General of the International Labour Organization and the Secretary General of the United Nations, and spoken up for eight million teacher members at the General Conference of UNESCO." Norm Goble, WCOTP secretary general

Ken Novakowski is the BCTF’s executive director.