Memory in music: Remembering Harry Rigby

Harry Rigby died on Aug. 23 at the age of 95. (Submitted: St. Thomas University Alumni Association)

The former St. Thomas University Dean of Men, the namesake of Rigby Hall and the founder of the Thomists, Harry Rigby, passed away on Aug. 23 at the age of 95.

Born on Jan. 10, 1927 in Dublin, Ireland, music always played a part of Rigby’s life. His son, Kevin Rigby, wrote in the eulogy that Rigby’s mother took him to piano lessons when he was eight. At 15, he learned how to play the accordion and started his first of five bands he’d play for in his lifetime.

“[Music was] pretty much like oxygen in our house,” Kevin said.

Rigby immigrated to Saint John, New Brunswick in 1947 with his parents William and Anne, and his four siblings: Willy, Florie, Cathleen and Steven. He became well known for his dance bands in the area.

He taught philosophy and music at Collège Saint-Joseph in Memracook, New Brunswick until it closed in 1965. Afterwards, he became the Dean of Men at St. Thomas University where he met his wife, Ann Robertson, and started the dance band known as the Thomists. He was the director and played the Hammond organ.

Kevin said his mother attended the dances the Thomists played at, and he heard the music “from the womb.”

His father taught him to play the saxophone, guitar and how to sing. The guitar was Kevin’s idea because of rock and roll, while the saxophone was his father’s because of the band. But Rigby’s influence went beyond his family.

“If you met him for five minutes or 93 years, he changed your life, usually for the better,” Kevin said.

After becoming the Dean of Men at St. Thomas University, Rigby started a dance band known as the Thomists. He was the band’s director and played the Hammond organ. (Submitted: Bill Richardson)

The current lead male vocalist of the Thomists, Bill Richardson, met Rigby during his first year at STU in 1965. He joined the band during his senior year and said Rigby was a firm but fair band leader.

“On the one hand, he was the twinkling-eyed leprechaun who made everybody smile, but on the other hand he was the commander in chief when it came to the band,” Richardson said.

Having a free weekend off was rare, Richardson said. The band played around 80 shows a year and half of them were road trips. He said Rigby would invite the band over at his house for backyard barbecues.

“We spent so much time together, we were like a big family,” Richardson said.

COVID-19 restrictions made it difficult for family, friends and loved ones of Rigby to mourn for a funeral, but Kevin said he appreciated those who reached out.

“If [he] ever influenced your life, you absolutely meant something to him.”

Rigby leaves behind a large and loving family, including his wife, Ann Robertson, and his two children, Kevin and Eireann.