N.B.: The detail displayed about each honorary degree recipient varies, as
the database was compiled from a variety of sources. However, more information may
be available at the University Archives.
Convocation date: November 6, 1965
Discipline / contribution: athletic training ; teaching
Citation / biographical information:
Eminent Chancellor, I present to you Ernest Wynne Griffiths. Having, for the record, given his baptismal name at the first of this introduction, I shall speak no more of “Ernest Wynne”, for he would be unknown to thousands of alumni, both faculty and students, whose faces would light up with affectionate recognition at the name of “Joe”.Degree received: Doctor of Laws
Joe Griffiths was born in Wales in 1880. He came to Canada at the age of twenty-eight, homesteaded for a time, and served in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. He joined the army in 1915 and was overseas for a period of four years. Immediately after his discharge in 1919 he came to the University of Saskatchewan as the head of, and in fact the entire Physical Education Department.
Having at this point discovered his life’s work, Joe’s next important step was to find his life partner, and this he did on Christmas Day in 1920. Throughout the intervening years, Mary Griffiths has played a most important role in Joe’s career, and no account of his accomplishments would be complete which did not include recognition of the constant encouragement, support, and strength provided by his wife.
For the next thirty-two years, until 1951, Joe’s whole life centred around the University of Saskatchewan. It is impossible for any alumnus of that era to separate Joe from the University, or the University from Joe. Therefore I shall make only brief reference to those activities which are not specifically related to his work at the University. Joe contributed substantially to the musical life of the community at large, as a song leader of note, and as a member, and later as president, of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. He was for many years a member of the Saskatoon Public School Board and of the Saskatoon Playgrounds Association. Joe and I were co-authors of a book, “Physical Fitness”, published by Copp-Clark, which was used widely as a textbook in Canadian schools.
Joe established a fine reputation as a coach in track and field athletics and in swimming, in which sports some of his proteges achieved international status. Ethel Catherwood won the Olympic high jump for Canada in 1928 and Phyllis Haslam held the world’s record for the women’s breast stroke in 1933. In recognition of his stature as a coach, Joe was asked on three separate occasions to serve as an official on Canada’s Olympic Team.
In the years when organized athletics were just beginning in this Province, no one exercised a greater influence on their development than did Joe Griffiths. It was he who first organized the Annual Provincial High School Track Meet. The early meets were held at the old running track north of the present Arts Building, while later ones were staged in the fine new Griffiths Stadium, named after Joe.
Joe’s many achievements in Physical Education received national recognition when in 1951 the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation bestowed its coveted Honor Award upon him. More recently he was officially honored by the Alumni Association of this University at its athletic reunion in 1964.
But none of the foregoing accomplishments, remarkable as they are, constitutes the real reason for the honor which the University wishes to confer on Joe at this time. By far his greatest contribution to the University and to its larger community has been made through his teaching. The real test of an outstanding teacher in Physical Education, or indeed in any other field, is not how skillfully he himself performs, but how deeply he is able to influence the thoughts, attitudes, and behavior of his students. Judged by this criterion, there are few teachers in the history of this University who have exerted a wider or stronger influence than has Joe Griffiths.
During his thirty-two years of teaching, Joe came in contact with thousands of students, both men and women. His influence on these students was enormous, and it began with a very simple human formula--his genuine interest in each and every one- of them. One did not have to be a star athlete to claim Joe’s attention. He took a particular pride in working with the raw novices who came to him at the beginning of the year--and believe me, they were raw--and in helping each to develop some skill and proficiency, along with a deep respect for sportsmanship and fair play, and a lusty enjoyment in all activities which he taught or supervised. The graduates of the Ham and Egg League”, wherever they may be, count themselves amongst Joe’s warmest admirers and friends.
Part of Joe’s influence on students, I am sure, can be attributed to his unfailing good humor and his capacity to make people laugh at their minor difficulties and failings. A typical Griffiths story concerns an elderly professor who asked Joe to teach him how •to swim. Joe, of course, agreed to do so, and used to check frequently the professor’s progress in the pool. On one occasion, as the professor was puffing along, gulping water with each desperate stroke, Joe’s greeting was, “Hi, Doc. How many miles are you making to the gallon?”
Joe was respected by all his students for his integrity and for his example. There is an old saying about the relationship of a pupil to a teacher which reads, “I cannot hear what you say, because what you are speaks so loudly.” There was never any conflict between the things that Joe Griffiths said and the man himself. As a consequence, no student who had given somewhat less than his best, or who had been guilty of any underhand tactic, ever felt comfortable in the presence of a man who never spared himself and whose sportsmanship was beyond question.
Great changes have taken place at this University since the days in which one could always find Joe at Room 104 Qu’Appelle Hall--often squatting, chalk in hand, amongst a group of students who were debating some point concerning a diagram for the new stadium which Joe had drawn on the linoleum floor-covering. Typically, some student who had lost a running shoe would be searching for a replacement in the equipment box containing spares and discards which was a permanent fixture in Joe’s office. Those days are gone, and pleasant as it is to recall them, we know that they belong to another era.
Yet it seems particularly appropriate that, at a time when this University, like all others, is faced with the opportunities and the problems created by a rapidly expanding student enrolment, increasingly complex facilities and administrative structure, the introduction of new technologies, and automation, Joe Griffiths should receive an Honorary Degree. His very presence on this platform is a reminder to all of us that the process of education is essentially a personal one, in which the influence of a teacher depends very much upon the number, the variety, the continuity, and the depth of the experiences which he shares with his students.
Eminent Chancellor, I present to you Joe Griffiths and ask that you confer upon him the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Degree presented by: J.B. Kirkpatrick, Dean of Education
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