A few weeks ago, I visited one of my “old” Engineering professors dating back to the 1970s. Park Reilly taught calculus to the engineers at Waterloo. He had been charged with the task of transferring some of his math skills to me and my classmates, and generally to create a sense of excitement in the fertile minds of the Chemical Engineering class of ’74 as we contemplated the mysteries of a difficult integral.

Having attained the remarkable age of 99, Park is not quite as fleet afoot as I remembered him. Nevertheless, Park and his wife Veva (of 73 years!) continue to call home an independent living apartment in Waterloo. It’s the same facility that my brother Keith and his wife Jane live in. Keith, as a former CHS chairperson, was an obvious person to contact when Park’s hearing aids began acting up. So, I found Park through a coincidence 50 years after we last met.

With a bottle of Polish brew in hand (Park’s favourite — Veva has her own fridge door cache), we set about to compare notes on how each of us had spent the past half century.

As I mentioned, my first contact with Park was in the calculus classroom. Anyone who took calculus in his class would surely be well acquainted with his “Ah-Ha” method for solving complicated integrals.

Not long after I took that course, my 1972 work term report landed on Park’s desk for review. It was not one of my better efforts. He gave me a “Barely Acceptable” grade. I deserved it.

I discovered Park’s son Jim in the 1973 FASS (Faculty, Administration, Staff and Students) annual comedy production — long on energy, and short on talent. It was my rookie year in FASS. In any case, someone had determined that the first scene of the second act needed a barbershop number. Both Jim and I had some music in our backgrounds, and I believe we got the parts relatively easily. Within the usual backstage chatter, I determined that Jim was closely related to my calculus professor. 

Barbershop chorus from the FASS production of 1973.

Barbershop chorus from the FASS production of 1973. Photo courtesy of the University of Waterloo Archives.

Both Jim and Keith graduated from Waterloo with mathematics degrees. Jim moved on to the PhD level and is currently at McMaster University. Keith took the actuarial route.

While Jim was on a sabbatical in Australia, Park and Veva made a trip around the world (in exactly 80 days!). Veva and Park stopped off in several locations to deliver guest lectures.   

Then, a couple of months after our wedding in 1976, my wife Theresa and I boarded a plane to Thailand. We had a two-year contract with CUSO (Canadian University Services Overseas) to provide a chemical engineering lecture at Prince of Songkla University in Thailand. It was an unforgettable couple of years.

Park and Vera at alumni weekend

Park and Veva Reilly (BA '77) attend Alumni Weekend on June 1, 2019. Photo credit: Neil Trotter, Studio 66

Park and Veva raised four children (all boys). Theresa and I also had four children (two boys and twin girls).

My visit with Park gave me the chance to reflect upon the many ways in which our lives had intersected or shared similar themes over the past five decades. I'm grateful that we were able to reconnect over these shared experiences.

Peter Golem (BASc ’74, MASc ’76) is a two-time Waterloo alumnus. He holds an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and a master's in mechanical engineering.