By Amanda Hu
University is full of legends and folklore. Students scrambling to stay on top of papers, midterms and finals often look to good luck rituals and campus traditions for reassurance. Among these legends is Bob Boston, a physical education student from the 1970s, who has inspired many students over the years. Boston’s legend stems from his achieving a perfect 4.0 GPA upon his graduation in 1974. Many students believe that rubbing his picture in the kinesiology complex will ensure good luck to test-takers. Gauntlet writer Amanda Hu recently tracked down Boston and got the down-low on what it’s like to be a legend.
Gauntlet: So, what are you doing these days?
Bob Boston: I’m a dad [and] a grandpa. I’ve got four kids, three grandkids. I’ve been married for 37 years. I teach [at Bow Valley High School] full-time. I teach kids with learning disabilities. I absolutely am passionate about that. I also have my own business. That’s kind of, in a nutshell, who I am.
I love sports still. I was in the kinesiology-or phys. ed. department, as it was called back then-so I’m still a jock. I’m totally into health. That doesn’t mean I’m fit, though. I’m not a smoker, but I used to be. We won’t say what [I smoked], of course. See, I was at the tail-end of the hippie movement because I was sort of a wannabe hippie. I had the hair, of course you’ve seen the hair, most of the hair on the sides. I’ve run into tons of people who say to me, “Are you Bob Boston?” Even teachers here on staff who went to the University of Calgary didn’t know I was the Bob Boston, the myth.
G: Tell me a little about your university days. What were you involved in on campus?
BB: Besides drinking and partying? Those were many, many moons ago, so I have a vague memory. I have a recurring nightmare still to this day of university. That nightmare is that I’m showing up to my last class of my course and I have to write an exam and I’m in my pajamas.
G: You’re a rez kid!
BB: I was in rez for a year or two. It was a great experience for me. The way I got to university isn’t all that glamorous. It was really just my mom saying, “You’re going to university and that’s it.” But honestly, in university it just was a lot of partying. Back then, that’s what it was. There are some things I’m ashamed of, but we won’t go into that.
G: You said that your parents were your main motivation for getting into and staying in university. That doesn’t necessarily seem like the best motivator for maintaining good grades. How did you push yourself to maintain the elusive 4.0 gpa?
BB: I didn’t have a 4.0. Is that the myth?
G: That’s the story. You got 100 per cent on every single test, assignment, et cetera.
BB: Oh, wow. It was probably more like a two-point-something or maybe a three every once in a while. Honestly, I did what I had to do. I’d never read a book all the way through until I went to university. Lord of the Flies was the first book I ever read. I hated reading. And here I am, teaching kids. In terms of getting what I needed for graduation, I knew how to work the system. I knew how to take a book and take what I needed out of it. So, my motivation was very lacking. It really was a drive from behind, more my parents wanting me to become something, or at least do something with my life. Because technically, looking at my life back then, I should be dead, or not even here, or in jail right now. The guy you see in the photo was [like that]. I’ve got friends that are dead because of the things we were doing back then.
G: How did the legend actually begin?
BB: I have no idea. I had no idea it even existed for the longest time. Being a teacher, I just bumped into a lot of people and they’d just say, “Are you Bob Boston?” and I said, “Yeah,” and then they went on and told me the legend. Someone probably looked at [my picture], thought it was pretty funny and sort of said, “That guy looks like Santa Claus. I’m going to rub his head.” Isn’t that something that people do?
G: Yeah they rub your picture. They actually have to replace the glass on it quite frequently.
BB: Maybe I should show up there in person.
G: There would be a riot. So did you have any good luck rituals you did before exams?
BB: I don’t know if I had any. I basically just showed up. I don’t know if I was always that prepared. I did study, so it’s not as bleak as I make it out to be.
G: Do you feel the pressure from being this legend and having so many students at the University of Calgary aware of who you are?
BB: Well, when you put it like that, there is now. No, not really. I’m 55. It’s kind of fun, so there’s not really pressure at all.
G: If you could give some tips to students, what would you say?
BB: I’d say it’s all about mental attitude. This isn’t my own stuff, it’s something a grade nine student said to me a couple of weeks ago, but I absolutely believe it. This is a 13-year-old boy saying that if you believe you can, then you’re going to do a lot better than if you believe you can’t. Next, you’ve got to care. You’ve got to care. Also, intently listen in class and intently take notes. I know everybody does that.
G: Of course. What did you do after graduation?
BB: I went directly into teaching high school and physical education. I went to Fort McMurray. We were done in April and I had a job in May. That was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me, in terms of my teaching career. If I had stayed here, I probably would have been dead. So going there was fantastic and the town was booming. I got to be a part of leading the phys. ed. department and developing that up there, so that was really good.
From Fort McMurray, I had an amazing spiritual experience in my life and then I went back to school again. I went to a theological school in Saskatchewan and had a spiritual awakening, if you want to call it that. That’s really where I started to turn around in my life in terms of wanting to make a difference. I was always good at sports and I was always good with people in general, but being a teacher is where I found my motivation and my heart. And from then on, I had honours all the way through. Find your passion or find your heart and then give it everything you’ve got.
G: You seem to be quite different from the person you described yourself as in university.
BB: Yeah, but you know what? I’m now very passionate about helping people with their whole person. Not just with health and stuff, but spiritually and emotionally. That is how I look at students. They’re not just a brain or a head with hair on it.
I was doing ministry part-time and working full-time on something else and honestly, I ended up working at a fibre-glass plant. I worked 12-hour shifts pushing a broom and banging my head on things, which I still probably have repercussions from. It was a mindless job, but on the side, I had something that I had a passion for, helping people’s lives spiritually and in terms of the whole person.
I went back to teaching high school students and got involved with special-needs and at-risk kids. So that’s what I ended up doing and my career shifted field-wise from phys. ed. to dealing with troubled teens in outreach programs. That was great and I loved doing that. I worked in Airdrie for a year with high-needs kids. It was the most fun I’ve ever had teaching. We had a little girl who had Down’s syndrome. In the mornings, I would sit down and try to teach her how to count or identify a penny and in the afternoon, I’d have to re-teach her how to identify a penny. Yet, that girl could go down the hallway and sing a whole song by the Backstreet Boys. Her memory was perfect for that but she couldn’t remember the difference between a penny and a dime. It was amazing. I had a guy who collected keys and he was a bit autistic. He had keys from around the world. One day he brought in a bucket of keys, postal keys, any kind of keys you could think of and he could take a key out and tell you where that key came from and what it was for.
G: Wow, so he was sort of a savant?
BB: He was totally a savant. He was amazing. He knew the difference between a house key, a mail key, a truck key, a car key, a Honda key, he knew them all. When [Bow Valley] opened up, I helped develop this program. In every job I’ve had, each one is different in who you’re teaching, but they’re all the same for me in the sense that they’re the jazz. Personal transformation in people is what excites me. Whether it’s academic or spiritual or emotional or physical, that’s what really gets me going. When that’s gone, I’m just going to kind of burn out.
G: What was the university like when you were a student here?
BB: I’m from a village in central Alberta, so when I got there it was huge. It was like going back to kindergarten. The buildings were big. Mind you, there weren’t as many as there are now. But things were big, you got lost. In a way, it was kind of overwhelming. After that though, you sort of get your relationships going and your friendships and you find where you hang out and where you go for lunch.
The activities were a big part too. We’d go to the sports events a lot. I should have played Dinos football. I could have. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It’s one of my regrets, but I was just frittering my life away at that point.
The classes, like now, were big and the professors were aloof. In the kinesiology department, it was a little better because you could go down and talk to your profs. It was a little more personal in the phys. ed. faculty. The memories are really vague.
G: You mentioned that you lived in rez for a while. How was that?
BB: That was full-on party mode. Initially, you’re getting into school and stuff, but that’s really where the party was. It was crazy. That’s when streakings happened too. I’ll never admit that I was a streaker, because I wasn’t, obviously. I’d say that even though it was the high point in terms of the partying, it was my low point personally. I can remember going through those underground walkways and it just wasn’t a pretty sight.
G: So how long did it take you to grow the legendary beard?
BB: I started losing my hair when I was about 19 and all the men in my family except for my dad were bald. So I started growing a mustache when I started losing my hair. And from there, it sort of went to chops and progressed. I had it for a long time, for about 18–20 years and then I shaved it off because it made me look younger. I had a ponytail for the longest time too, even when I was in pastoral ministry. Then I guess I got respectable or something because I got rid of it. My wife likes it though.
G: That’s definitely important.
BB: Yeah, I’ve been happily married for a long time. Having grandchildren is the best thing in the world. If you’ve ever seen that bumper sticker, “Grandparenthood is a reward for parenthood,” it’s so true.
G: Are there any closing remarks you’d like to make as a legend?
BB: I’d just say be who you are. Be who you are and do it with all of your might. That’s really what university was to me. It was discovering who I was, what I was for. University was a big part of that for me, helping me realize that I was about helping people.