News and Events

David McCullum: “we may not be big, but we’re small”

In the Fall of 2009, I was the newly-minted board chair of a tiny independent school on a tiny island off the BC coast. As such, I was sent to the annual general meeting of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools to meet other chairs, and to learn more about the job I’d agreed to take on.

The first day began with a gathering for about four dozen rookie chairs, and that session began with everyone taking a turn to introduce themselves and their schools.

I kept hearing phrases like “we’re a K-12 school with 700 students and staff” or “we’ve got 1232 students and are hoping to grow to 1400.”

We were the smallest International Baccalaureate school in the world, and I didn’t really know how to avoid sounding like a country mouse. I was almost last to speak, and when it was my turn, I began to describe our school by saying that I felt like a rounding error in comparison to all these other, more established schools.

I was used to reminding people that our school’s tiny size really was an asset and offered that “it reminds me of the slogan for Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café Record Store: ‘we may not be big, but we’re small.” There was polite laughter.

That evening, we were being bused to dinner at our host school (K-12, 2000+ students!), and I stood in line with the others. People were very kind and introduced themselves and asked about our school and I used that Vinyl Café line again with the lovely person in line in front of me.

“I should try to get in touch with him to see if we can use the slogan,” I casually mentioned.

Instead of laughing, though, her face fell.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well, you know Stuart is a friend of mine, don’t you?”

“I’m really sorry,” I offered. “But I don’t even know who you are!”

It turned out that I was speaking with the executive director of the association and that she really was friends with Stuart. She thought I was trying to use her connection…

Once we worked out that my intentions were honourable, she offered to introduce me to Stuart and by the time I got home from the meetings, there it was: email from Stuart himself, and he graciously allowed us the right to use the slogan.

Stuart McLean was a BIG deal in our family. My mother and I shared an affection for Peter Gzowski, who of course introduced Stuart to the country with his wonderful piece about the cricket on Morningside. And that affection transferred to Stuart as Peter retired and withdrew from the public eye.

I loved to listen to the Vinyl Café, and our two young children could often be found in our living room listening avidly on Saturday mornings. We went to a couple of his Christmas concerts, and after the 2009 show in Vancouver were able to spend some time with him. He confirmed that he’d be pleased if the school used his slogan, and gracefully declined any compensation (we had none of significance to offer) or praise.

Ultimately he was a treasure for our country. He worked to unite and entertain us, and always seemed to care, to have time, and to want to help.

His accidental telephone interview with the boy whose parents were divorcing showed me his compassion. In spite of his own substantial shyness, he drew us out of ourselves, and made each of us better.

He was a good man and I loved him.

David McCullum
Former Board Chair