MEMORY LANE: Writer looks forward to rediscovering the past

Brian Bagley is close to completing the memoir he began last summer.

Having entered his 94th year on Nov. 1, there is much to remember. Brian has discovered the miracle of memory: the more we explore our past, the more our memories return.

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Yes, memory is like a muscle, only it’s virtual. The process of recollection gets stronger the more it’s used. As Brian puts it: “The old computer starts to whirl and more memories come to mind. It’s all stored up there, I just have to access it.”

Brian talks about his family, about his war service and about his career at Telus during our conversations for this column.

Any of these topics would merit a column to itself because Brian is an observant man whose recollections, all the way back to childhood, are recounted as stories, tempered with humour and with the perspective that comes with time.

“There was a 10-year age difference between my father, Lawrence, born in 1893, and my mother, known as Maisie, born in 1903. She was more outgoing, more forthcoming, he was very Victorian in his attitudes. My father was a military doctor, posted to Iraq during most of the 1930s, leaving my upbringing and education to my mother. I am a product of her thinking, not my father’s,” he explains.

Brian was about seven years old when he set fire to the shed at his grandparents’ home in Yorkshire. His grandfather extinguished the little blaze and kept Brian’s misdeed from his mother and grandmother.

“‘I’m not telling them, you have learned your lesson,’ he said to me.”

One of Brian’s duties during his own military service was to adjudicate minor infractions perpetrated by the British enlisted man.

“The sergeant major would make his recommendations, then I would talk to the men to learn the circumstances of their offense. Usually, there were extenuating circumstances, and we were able to come to an understanding.”

After the war, the prospect of life as a chartered accountant, for which he had been trained, did not appeal. Brian came to Vancouver in 1948, a young man making his way in a new world. His memoir includes an insider’s view of 37 years with Telus, one of B.C.’s largest employers.

He joined the British Columbia Telephone Company, as it was known then, because of the opportunities for growth supported by 65,000 new subscribers waiting for telephone service.

One of Brian’s first assignments was visiting rural operators. Most worked from their homes, processing bill payments and service orders. “Oh, the characters,” he says, opening another rich vein of memory. Some of those characters had flaws, he recalls.

“They considered petty cash to be a personal line of credit from the company. I explained that borrowing from the fund must stop. I wouldn’t fault them, only noting in my report that the situation was corrected satisfactorily.” 

Living as we do in a world increasingly reliant on technology, the expansion of phone service during Brian’s time with the company – 1948 to 1985 – and the physical effort required to deliver it throughout our province’s extreme terrain, is almost unimaginable.

When, for example, Telus went on strike in 1969, Brian and his fellow managers fanned out across the province to deliver uninterrupted telephone service. Brian was assigned to Campbell River, extending to the logging company and village connections further north and to marine traffic in the Inside Passage. The experience was grueling: “We worked 12-hour days, three, four hour shifts, with a half hour break after each shift, seven days a week for seven weeks.”

Brian and his wife Hazel were living in West Vancouver by then. He was in the North Shore office, district manager of an area that extended along the Sunshine Coast to Pender Harbour and up Howe Sound to Whistler and Pemberton. 

In 1983, Brian took over the company’s retirement planning program, retiring as employee resources manager two years later.

It wasn’t long before Brian returned to the company where he would remain for another nine years, providing retirement planning sessions to Telus staff. Brian’s work in this area drew the attention of Mike Grenby, who wrote about financial planning for the Vancouver Sun and later for the North Shore News.

The two developed a friendship that has continued through the years, even though they live on different continents, thanks to the miracle of communications technology.

Today, with more people, including himself, living well beyond their three-score and ten years, Brian says he would amend his retirement advice: “keep challenged,” to recommend that retirees take up the challenge of writing their life story, because, as he can testify, the rewards are so great. 

One reward showed up when those stories from Brian’s childhood, from his military service and from his career at Telus came together. They illustrate the influences that formed Brian’s character and guided his approach to life: to give the benefit of the doubt and to expect the best of everyone.

We attain wisdom by reflecting on our experiences and understanding how they have shaped the progress of our life.

Brian Bagley is up to the challenge. Are you?

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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