Brent Maxwell Smart (1959 – 2017)
The College recently lost one of our Philosophy instructors, Dr. Brent Smart. We will miss his probing intelligence and his willingness to seek clarity – and where possible, amusement – in conversation. I thought it was great to have a “Dr. Smart” as a colleague! We would chat sometimes in the photocopy room. Brent’s conversational style could be characterized as philosophical: somewhat jesting, somewhat self-conscious, perhaps somewhat cynical. Our talk often gravitated to music. Last year, he went to an Alice Cooper concert – with his daughter. I really appreciated this, as a long-time fan of showman Vince Furnier’s work (and as a dad who’d taken his own daughter to see a Metrotown parking lot show by Avril Lavigne back in the day). But Brent was not just a spectator. He enjoyed playing bass (another thing we had in common) in various musical combos, and even had a collection of bass guitars. When he learned that Columbia College was moving to its new location on Terminal next to an established musical instrument supply store, Brent asserted, “If I’m not at the College, you’ll find me in the bass section at Long & McQuade’s!” His sense of performance extended itself to clothes, as well. Brent seemed always to be wearing Hawaiian shirts or bowling shirts, the latter often sporting a badge with some name like “Vic” – an appealing quirk for those of us who teach about the arbitrariness or indexicality of signs. Brent’s own graduate studies had focused on questions of information and the environment. One scholar to whom he paid particular attention, J.J. Gibson, once articulated a notion about his ecological approach: “Ask not what is inside your head, but what your head is inside of.” I am glad to have had my head inside of Columbia College while Brent was there.
When the shattering, heartbreaking news arrived that my dear friend and colleague, Jill Orenstein, had unexpectedly succumbed to cardiac arrest, my husband and I were on holiday at a lovely cabin on Galiano Island that she had recommended. So happily engaged with life and so health-conscious, with her contagious joie de vivre, beautiful positive energy, great sense of humour, with her passions for teaching, art, yoga and meditation, how could our “Jillo” have passed away so suddenly? Memories flooded back as I wept while hiking the woods that Jill loved so much. A beloved teacher, a caring wife and a loyal friend, she was also an incredibly devoted daughter who made regular trips to Halifax to look after her aging parents. It was about 25 years ago at a TESL conference in Victoria that our friendship really began, when she invited me to stay with her at her in-laws’ home. That’s the kind of person she was, thoughtful, considerate, accommodating. She always found ways to include everyone, engaging and bringing out the best in friends, colleagues, family members, even strangers. I remembered her former English 097 students recounting how lucky they were to have had such an inspiring, kind, dedicated instructor who made learning fun. Jill managed to reach even the least motivated students and build their confidence. An ardent member of our Columbia College family, she stood by her principles and generously served on boards and committees. Soft-spoken, sensitive, wise and authentic, always listening intently, she was a wonderful communicator with impeccable integrity who enjoyed soulful, stimulating conversations. With uncontrollable tears, I watched the Galiano sunset that Jill had cherished so dearly and captured so well in her art. My heart filled with love and gratitude for her and the inspiration she had been in all of our lives. I reread our last text exchange, from just five days earlier; her final words to my husband and me had been, “Love to you both. XO.” We miss you deeply, Jillo. Rest in peace, dear friend… Love to you always. XO.