Dr. John Amphlett: Faculty & Sports Leader Extraordinaire …

By 25782 OCdt Brandon Friesen

This past week, I had the honour and pleasure of interviewing someone who has had a considerable amount of time and influence at the Royal Military College of Canada. As a matter of fact, Dr. John Amphlett has around thirty-six years on me at this fine institution, due to the fact that I am in my fourth year of studies and he has taught, managed, and coached here longer than I have been alive. It was truly a rewarding experience to hear him recall his time at the College and the many roles he performed during his outstanding tenure.

Upon meeting Dr. Amphlett outside RMC’s Senior Staff Mess, I noticed that he had a small limp; he was recovering from a leg injury. “It’s the first time I’ve been slowed down,” he said jovially. After talking with him for the rest of the morning, I believed it, for he has taken every opportunity to find busy and meaningful ways to involve himself with the College.

Dr. John Amphlett arrived at RMC in 1967 to do a Post Doctoral Fellowship with Dr. Dacey, the Head of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and later the Principal of the College. In 1969 several permanent teaching positions opened up in this department, and Dr. Amphlett applied for one.

Since that choice, he has taught many courses to just about every type and year of student at RMC. He taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and, due to the fact that in those days everyone did a common 1st year program, he even lectured Arts students along with Engineering and the Sciences. Dr. Amphlett has seen quite a good sample of cadets at the college, and this is merely from the academic side.

When I asked him how working as a professor at RMC had changed over his forty years of teaching, he stated that the biggest change was mostly in the attitude of the classroom compared to how “regimental” it used to be. It had grown and still grows a little more laid-back over the passing years. I was surprised to hear that cadets used to be required to salute any civilian faculty on campus! Among other things, such as the introduction of women to the College, another large change that Dr. Amphlett mentioned was how technology has changed the way classes were taught. However, he told me he was still a “chalkboard type of guy.”

Dr. Amphlett was not only a professor; on top of that a coach for the varsity rugby team for eleven years from 1968-79. He remembered it as “a truly rewarding experience, getting to know the cadets outside the classroom, learning how many of them dealt with all the different aspects that they had to manage while trying to do their academics, military duties, and at the same time play competitive sports.” The team regularly took trips to the UK, courtesy of the British Military, to play the Sandhurst, Dartmouth, Cranwell, and Larkhill teams. These visits were an eye-opener for how other military schools were run, as well as a great incentive for the cadets to do well in their classes, since only students doing well in academics could go. To Dr. Amphlett’s knowledge, none of his players missed one of these very desirable trips, for they all had C or B averages.

The rugby team also played games against West Point and the US Naval Academy, whom they regularly trumped, and of course, Queen’s University. RMC’s rugby games against Queen’s carried the weight of the rivalry between the two schools, for these were the only varsity teams from either university to play each other due to the various leagues the other teams were in. Dr. Amphlett remembers one seasonin particular where his rugby team beat Queen’s four times, and each of those wins was by more than twenty points. It was one of the highlights from his extracurricular responsibilities at RMC.

All this turned out to be quite the workload, for he would regularly return home around seven or eight o’clock each night. Then there were rugby games on Saturday and Sunday, not to mention the trips to England and the United States. After his eleven years of coaching, Dr. Amphlett left his position of coach in order to spend some more time with his growing family. However, he was still interested in remaining involved with the cadets, so he became Chairman of the rugby team for the next eight years. On top of this, he was Chairman of the Recreation Club, the Athletic Awards Committee, and later the Hockey team. The Recreation Club, in those days, was responsible for providing finances for the equipment and extracurricular activities of the Rep teams and Clubs at the College.

I asked Dr. Amphlett if taking on these extracurricular responsibilities helped him relate to the workload of the cadets studying at RMC. He agreed and said that RMC definitely asked a lot more than any other university. The high participation in sports was something he could appreciate, seeing the cadets from both the academic and varsity point of view. He suggested, to his disappointment, that RMC has started to lean more heavily on the academics pillar than that of athletics. He suggested that sports compliment and improve academics, allowing people to clear their minds from their studies for a while and refresh.

Winding the interview down, I asked how Dr. Amphlett spends his time now that he is retired. He told me that while initially thinking that it would be dull and slow, it has been the opposite and now he is busier than before! He is still involved in research, even if not directly, and he travels for both research and recreation. China, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, and Japan he mentioned; he has seen over thirty countries so far. When he is back home in Kingston, he participates in two choirs: The Kingston Capital Men’s Chorus and the Kingston Senior Choristers. He had played quite a bit of golf until his recent leg injury; now he has taken up lawn bowling as a new pastime.

When I asked Dr. Amphlett to give a few final comments to the readers of E-Veritas, he wanted to stress that rugby is always a good sport for a military. It requires incredible teamwork as well as individuality. He said “a team can have the best fifteen athletes, but be swamped by a team with technique.” In parting, he added “teaching here was a good career move; I thoroughly enjoyed my time at RMC.”

2 Comments

  • Lionel Boxer

    July 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Great to read this article. One of my great pleasures while at RMC was playing rubgy – Dr Amphlett’s coaching and his voice remain very clear memories. Thanks John. You had a really positive impact on my life.

  • Les Chapman 11756

    August 3, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Excellent interview with a real gentleman – who introduced me to rugby when we got knocked out of the football finals – that experience served me well in playing for my submarine’s rugby team in the RN – Thank you John.