Much More Than a Red Sweater

“The Red Sweater”

It was a great surprise and honour to share the cover of the Fall 2012 issue of Veritas with first-year officer cadets 26680 Damon Thomas and 26852 Alex Gorman. Before I saw the picture I had two e-mails from Class of 57 colleagues who said “What a great picture.”It is a great picture and Damon and Alex and I have to thank photographer Steven McQuaid for that. And thanks to the editors and staff who chose it .

Of all the photos that were taken that day what is there about this one that caught the editor’s eye? Perhaps it is the happy faces. I was excited to be there with the young cadets, as wet and mucky as they were, and Damon and Alex were no doubt happy to get the obstacle course over with.What better content than happy,excited people with the Mackenzie Building in the background.

Perhaps it is the old hand on the young, strong shoulder.The guys got a handshake and a pat on the shoulder,he girls a handshake and a hug.I tried my best to make it as warm and sincere as I could. What a marvelous bunch of kids.

My wife, Wanda, says it is the red sweater. There is a story about that red RMC sweater that you may find interesting or perhaps as touching as I do.

The sweater isn’t mine.I have bought clothing in the gift shop but I didn’t buy this sweater.It was a treasured possession of a former classmate. 3846 Dick Harding was one of us who valued everything about the Colleges—our motto,his years at RMC ,his Class of 57 classmates,his association with ex-Cadets from other years and the Club of which he was a great supporter. On one of my visits to see him he showed me a family picture hanging on the living room wall.He is wearing the red RMC sweater.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1987 and then a terminal illness in 2000.He knew that he wouldn’t make the Old Brigade and that was a big disappointment to him. After a contact by his family with the Old Brigade he was given a tie and beret. He was so proud to have them.He showed me how to wear the beret and in spite of the best instruction I have yet to master that skill. The tie and beret were with him until the end. I suspect the red sweater was close at hand.

After the funeral his wife Eleanor gave me the sweater.She said it didn’t matter to her when or where I wore it. I haven’t worn it a lot but on this past ex-Cadet weekend I brought it to wear if there was some down time to be casual.We got to Kingston mid Friday afternoon just in time to make the obstacle course and Wanda suggested that I wear the sweater. No time to get properly dressed.

As is the custom after our class Friday night dinner Al Roberts,our class secretary and now former Old Brigade Adjutant started the round of mutual greetings. In his speech he told us how much our being there for the Cadets at the coin and badging ceremonies meant to them. Al also told us what belonging to the Old Brigade and the whole family of Cadets and ex-Cadets should mean to us and in doing so used the story about how much the Old Brigade tie and beret meant to Dick.When it was my turn to speak I said what an uplifting experience it was to be part of the coin presentations and how good it felt to wear Dick’s RMC sweater.

After the fall issue of Veritas came out and I exchanged e-mails with Al Roberts about the picture Al suggested that the “red sweater” was a story that had to be told.

I called Dick’s youngest daughter Kerin right away and got her on the website and to the picture.You can imagine what an emotional moment it was when I told her it was her Dad’s sweater. Kerin’s siblings Pat, Susan and Steven got to the website that evening and the email exchanges were heartfelt thanks and comments.

Steven quipped that you have to be sentimental to Google something to see an old sweater of Dad’s. Susan said the young man I am patting on the shoulder looks like a young Dick Harding. Pat suggested her Dad might have orchestrated the whole thing. I know for sure he would like to have been with the Old Brigaders and the young Cadets on the square that day. Perhaps the red sweater was there in his place, helping all of us make the connection.

On a personal note, after our years in the RCAF, Dick and I became Ontario high school teachers and for many years tried to make the connection with young, excited and exciting kids. We both learned how to love and respect them. Three that were with me are RMC graduates and I am very proud of them.18323 Don Durand, Class of 92, was at the 2012 weekend. That was a special treat. I think Dick’s red sweater and I had a good “connecting” weekend. I plan to bring the sweater in 2017 (that’s optimisim, isn’t it?) but no photographs, please.

3859 D.E. Wright

One Comment

  • Bonnie Melichercik

    January 18, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    This is a great letter. I think Dave’s photo was chosen since you can see the true warmth of his personality and love for RMC and the young students. Dave is a great inspiration to all these young men. I know our whole family looks up to Dave and admire him. I would love to see his photo published again in 2017. Make it happen.