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David Ireland ("Lives Lived")
Posted March 16, 2004

by John Allemang

Education researcher, soccer fanatic, wit. Born April 20, 1937 in Norwich, England. Died Sept. 12, 2003, of cardiac arrhythmia, in Ottawa, aged 66.

David Ireland knew that at 66, he was getting a little old for serious soccer. His team played in the 6th division of the Ottawa Old-Timers league, and it delighted him that old-timer was defined as anyone over 35.

"At my level," he told me, "the major goal is to find a good pub near the field -- that does fish and chips."

The expatriate Englishman in that statement comes through loud and clear. Which is odd, because David was disenchanted with his native country's values and as enthusiastically Canadian as they come. His happiest moments, off the soccer field at least, were when he was barbecuing hunks of meat at his cottage on Rideau Lake -- to the exuberant accompaniment of his jazz trumpet, which he used as a kind of timing device for doneness.

When he died, he had just completed a project for Health Canada assessing Aboriginal Head Start programs on reserves.

No election campaign could be said to have begun until an NDP sign graced his lawn, although one of his proudest contributions was making his own anti-Tory sign that was very quickly stolen. He liked to get under people's skin just a little. When he wasn't promoting NDP candidates door-to-door, he was writing sane and elegant damnations of public foolishness to the Globe and Mail's editor. "Why all the whinging about the Ontario government cutting back on microbiologists?" he wrote after it became apparent that privatization may have hastened the spread of West Nile Virus. "Take your tax cuts. Hire your own microbiologist."

Fogies pining for a mythic golden age particularly infuriated him. When a columnist damned television a little too predictably, he took pleasure in pointing out that Plato felt the same way about reading. There was a certain amount of self-interest in his philosophical position -- he was addicted to televised soccer, and became a complete shut-in during the World Cup.

David was the kind of clear thinker you turned to when you wanted to cut through claptrap. Much of that came from his diverse educational background: scholarship boy at Norwich Cathedral School, a law degree from Oxford, teaching stints in Spain, England and Smiths Falls, Ont., a master's in special education from Southern Illinois and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Toronto. Much of his charm came from his complete openness to the variety of human experience; for a man with a strongly defined sense of right and wrong, he had what the psychologist in him would describe as a high tolerance for ambiguity.

He hated England's class system even more than its rain, and chose soccer as his sport partly because it was the working man's game -- although that didn't stop him from organizing Oxford-Cambridge cricket matches. When he left England and came to Smiths Falls in 1967, his lack of official credentials meant he could teach only the general-level students who weren't going to university. A lifelong supporter of the underdog, he threw himself into developing a literature curriculum that would intrigue the kids who pumped gas. He also created a soccer team from those who weren't considered good enough to play other sports, the first of many acts of soccer evangelism.

David's favourite soccer move was the speedy breakout, and he died practising what he preached. He'd previously told his wife Cathy that he was finally ready to quit the game and take up golf. But shortly after his funeral, a cheque was returned to her: his soccer fees for the coming season, already paid.

John Allemang is David's friend.