Since 1975, Larry Batt has been reading each and every St. Thomas University graduate’s name as they walk across the stage toward the rest of his or her life.
“Each student is her own person, and deserves the attention, even if it is for 10 seconds. I get the name right, I get the hometown right and I make sure they don’t trip going across the stage,” Larry said while sitting in his office last Thursday.
This year’s convocation will be his last. The former registrar and now dean of students is retiring at the end of June.
“That will be an emotional time for me, because it will be the last time I do something for the students.”
His father worked in the air force, so Larry attended 14 different schools, depending on where his father was stationed.
In 1963, they landed in Chatham, N.B.
There, Larry went to St. Thomas High School, an all-male school, which was connected to St. Thomas University at the time. After graduating, it was natural for him to apply and go to STU.
“I was such a mobile young fellow, that the idea of staying and making something my home was a good feeling.”
Little did he know, his affiliation with STU would span some 49 years and counting.
“It’s not just a number, it’s true, this is where I attended, this place helped create who I’ve become.
“I was born in Belleville, Ontario, but I couldn’t tell you a street name there.”
When STU moved to Fredericton in 1965, Larry went with it.
He was the editor-in-chief of The Aquinian, a residence advisor in Harrington Hall and valedictorian of the class of 1969.
His loyalty in the school travelled with him to the University of Saskatchewan in his third year, when he was granted a scholarship that allowed him to go to any Canadian university for a year.
“Friends that were in my class would tease me a little bit because I was getting good marks. They said, ‘Yeah, but how well would you do in a big one, a university?’
“They’d really be asking the question, ‘How good is St. Thomas?’ So I went to the University of Saskatchewan and I got higher marks there than I had at St. Thomas.”
After that, he went to Dalhousie University on scholarship to get his master’s in English.
“I found that I was strong. I was in graduate school and doing graduate classes and I was fine.”
He finished his master’s and started working on a doctorate before questioning what he really wanted to do.
“I wrote to Father [George] Martin around Christmastime in 1970 and I said I was thinking of taking a break and looking for a job.”
Larry asked for reference letters and transcripts. Instead, he got a visit from Martin, the then-registrar of STU.
“He drove to Halifax, took me out to dinner and said, ‘How would you like to be my assistant registrar?’”
According to the History of Saint Thomas University: The Formative Years 1860-1990, Batt was offered $7,500 for the position.
In 1975, Martin became president of the university and wrote Larry a letter, offering him the job of registrar.
Father John Jennings, former history professor and chaplain, remembers helping Batt with the scheduling of students, along with English professor Fenton Burke.
“For 10 years…each March, the three of us would gather in my residence suite in Harrington Hall for two or three evenings,” Jennings said in an email.
“Then, it was a task that involved juggling timeslots, avoiding conflicts among similar courses and helping departments to schedule. It gave us also an opportunity to get together, share stories and fill the room with smoke – all three of us smoked – two of us pipes and one, cigarettes.”
In December 1973, Larry had his first date with his wife Elaine at a STU dance.
One year later, they were married.
Elaine went on to work as a teacher in Fredericton. All three of their children spent time at STU.
Daughters Laura and Maureen graduated with their BAs and their son John spent a year and a half at STU.
Larry could name another 20 in his extended family who also attended the university.
It was when his oldest daughter Laura was five that Larry was met with a struggle that redefined how he saw his job.
Laura was diagnosed with cancer, which meant Larry was in and out of his office all the time.
He began asking students for their phone numbers in case he had to cancel an appointment.
“It was a very significant part of my career to have that happen.
“It made me a better registrar to have that happen because I was more sensitive to what people, to what students, were dealing with in their own lives.”
Larry’s office looks out on to the upper courtyard of STU.
He’s watched as buildings have popped up and as the student population increased from 299 to more than 2,000.
Sitting behind his desk, he pulled out a weathered, yellowing file, thick with letters and notes of thanks from over the years.
“When Father Martin first hired me, he said to me, ‘Larry, there will be people who are critical and people who will say to you, I have a complaint. I want you to start a file called commendations.
“Over the years people will write and say thank you.’”
Patrick Malcolmson, a political science professor, said he used to call Larry “the great fireman.”
“You never get credit for…the bad things that never happen.
“There were many bad things that did not happen because of Larry.
“When students and their families had problems, Larry dealt with them in ways that always made it clear that STU was about treating students and their families as people.”
It was in December that he decided it was time to leave STU.
At 63, Larry has realized he won’t be around forever.
“My dad was 65 when he retired. They had 10 good years of health together, until my dad came down with Parkinson’s. So in terms of their retirement life, they had 10 years [together].There’s no guarantee of a long haul.
“I’m leaving on a high, and that’s a nice way to go.”