TRURO – He was an intellect who liked to also work with his hands and who strived for excellence from himself and others.
Former CEC principal ‘Archie’ Robertson as seen in a photograph in the school’s 1980 yearbook. Robertson died last Saturday at age 77.
That is how John Robert Archibald “Archie” Robertson is described by some of the people who worked with him during his days as principal of the Cobequid Educational Centre (CEC) high school in Truro.
“He was a smart man. Very intelligent man,” said Bob Gibbs, a former teacher and vice-principal of the school, who was hired by Robertson in 1972.
“He was a multi-dimensional man. He had many facets to him (that many people didn’t know),”
Robertson died of cancer last Saturday in his Truro home where he had lived for 49 years. He was 77.
Born in New Glasgow on April 1, 1936, Robertson served as a reservist in the Royal Canadian Navy and worked in western Canada as a geologist for Mobil Oil before returning to Nova Scotia to pursue a degree in education at St. FX University in Antigonish.
Early in his teaching career, however, Robertson moved from the classroom to administration and in 1970 he became the first principal of CEC, a position he held until 1994.
“I would probably sum it up by saying Archie was a true mentor to me. Particularly in education,” said Gibbs, who served at the school for 33 years, the last seven as vice-principal.
“Archie’s approach to education, his decision making was always based on what was in the best interests of the students and the school and I truly respected him for that. He was a taskmaster. He was a disciplinarian and he had high expectations, both of the staff and the students and the school. And because of that my belief is that it elevated the level of excellence in the school to a level that made it the best school in the province.”
From music to sports to the school’s academic program itself, the late Robertson is credited with initiating honours programs and enriched courses and setting high standards that led CEC to becoming respected far and wide.
“From the outset, and I think many who worked with him would agree with this, Archie was clearly the leader of that school,” said Dave Higgins, who was hired by Robertson in 1977 and who also taught and served as a vice-principal at CEC.
“His thumbprint was on the school. He clearly had a vision of what he felt CEC could be and should be and he worked hard to see that the school was serving the needs of this community,” Higgins said.
“Archie impressed upon all of us that, you know, because of the combination of our circumstances I guess, the size and the quality of staff, that anything less than striving for excellence wasn’t acceptable.”
During his off hours, Robertson liked to coach footfall, he sailed and enjoyed hunting and fishing or shooting pool with friends.
He was also an avid reader who prided himself on being informed on discussions “on anything from politics to religion,” Gibbs said.
In the pursuit of continued education, Robertson received his masters in education from Harvard University in 1982.
But beyond academics, he was also a hands-on person who liked to learn and try new things. He restored automobiles, including doing his own welding and bodywork, Gibbs said.
“He was a doer and a maker. He liked to work with his hands.”
But he was also a family man who was proud of his children and his grandchildren alike.
“He was just a real country guy if you will,” Gibbs said. “He was a smart man. Very intelligent man.”
A celebration of life is planned for Robertson Thursday at Colchester Community Funeral Home from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.
John Robert Archibald “Archie” Robertson, 77
Born in New Glasgow, April 1, 1936
Died in Truro, Oct. 5, 2013
Served as (the first) principal at CEC high school in Truro from 1970 to 1994.
Hobbies included hunting, fishing, billiards and restoring automobiles.
Married to Janet (Hennie)
Two children: Scott and Susan.