18 January 2012

Glen Hancock (1919–2011)

Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for author and friend Glen Hancock. Born in Wolfville in 1919, Glen was writing for periodicals (westerns and mysteries) before he’d even graduated from high school. After serving in the RCAF in the Second World War (an experience he recounts in Charley Goes to War, a memoir published by Gaspereau Press in 2004), he studied at Acadia University, University of Toronto and the University of Edinburgh. His skills as a writer and storyteller underpinned in career, as a journalist at the London Free Press, as a syndicated columnist in 35 papers, and later in public relations for Imperial Oil Limited. In the 1960s, Glen took time off from his job at Imperial Oil to help found the School of Journalism at University of Kings College, Halifax, and was dean of the program from 1962 to 1965. Curiosity, astonishing community spirit and a love of travel were also key characteristics of Glen’s personality. He died just short of the age of 92.

When I first moved to the Wolfville area, Glen was in his late seventies and was active mentoring local writers and writing a column for the local newspaper. He showed up at the press one day in 1999, before Gaspereau had really established itself nationally, with the manuscript of his first memoir, My Real Name is Charley: Memoirs of a Grocer’s Clerk. Glen and I hit it off right away, and he became a sort of fixture at the press. Not that he hung around here much, but you could tell that he derived great enjoyment from popping in for a visit and updating me on his ‘assignments’. We occasionally wrote notes back and forth to each other instead of using the telephone. “I admire your hand,” Glen once wrote me about my odd printing style, which pleased me. I have always had a great affinity for newspapers and journalism, which could as easily have been my own path in life had I not fallen into book publishing.

There was nothing Glen liked better than a party – hosting or attending, it didn’t matter. He was a graceful conversationalist and excellent host with old-timey manners. As well as his annual summer garden parties (which I almost always missed due to my family responsibilities), you could count on Glen to be at the annual Gaspereau Press Christmas party, standing with a drink in one hand and his other arm elegantly draped across the face of a bookshelf, mixing, holding forth, laughing. One year I turned in a crowded room to witness Glen greeting a twenty-something year old woman by kissing her hand. Always the charmer! Another year we even imposed on Glen to host our Christmas party. When the party finally started winding down sometime after midnight, Glen seemed disappointed and seemed to have several more hours of mischief left in reserve.

All the time I knew him, it seemed Glen was at work on a new book for Gaspereau Press, though in our decade-long association he completed only two of the three books we had planned. The third he had always referred to as Charley’s Leftover Life, and was meant to deal with the experience so many people had of returning home from the overwhelming and life-altering experience of serving in the Second World War and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. The war had changed their world utterly, and changed them as well. Over the past few years I had begun to fear that Glen’s resolve to complete this book was waning, and so I tried to encourage him without putting pressure on him to produce something he was not prepared to complete.

In actual fact, nothing about Glen’s life feels like it could ever have been simply leftover. He was someone who truly made the most of his time here on earth.