Dr. Richard Zigler (second from left) left Canada for Africa, where he taught special needs education at Pwani University in Kenya. (Photo contributed)

Former Shuswap teacher remembered for staying true to beliefs

Celebration of life for Dr. Richard Zigler taking place Saturday, Feb. 23

Family and friends will celebrate the life of the late Dr. Richard Zigler this weekend.

Zigler died of heart failure in late December in India where he had sought medical treatment.

Those who knew him well say accessible and quality education for everyone were of prime importance and something he strove to make happen throughout his career.

Director of Student Support at School District #83 prior to retiring in early 2009, Zigler was still doing what he loved best – teaching special needs education at Pwani University in Kenya.

Describing himself as “a retired but not tired gypsy” on his Facebook page, Zigler, an avid woodcarver, is fondly remembered by family and friends.

“He taught us a lot about the kind of contribution we should be providing to the world, but gave us the opportunity to follow our own hearts,” says daughter Alicia, who lived in Tuktoyaktuk until she was four and her brother, Morgan, was two. “He never tried to say we had to be or act a certain way; he was very into individuality and freedom to develop the way we envisioned ourselves.”

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Alicia believes his term as school principal in the North connected him to small communities and helped him to understand needs and barriers.

“He always strove to bring down the barriers for individuals to promote inclusion,” Alicia says.

Morgan confirms this, saying his dad grew up in the biggest city in Canada (Toronto), surrounded by thousands of people living conventional lives.

“My dad knew when he was 15 what his contribution to the world would be and he never wavered – to be focused on including everyone in the opportunities this world has to offer no matter who they were,” Morgan says. “He focused on leveraging the greatest impact for people who were marginalized and always saw in them their potential.”

Morgan says his father made a conscious decision to leave Canada, a country that had so many resources but wasn’t doing what he considered to be enough. So he moved to a country that had nothing but welcomed him and his ideas.

“As a father, he knew I needed to encounter all the challenges and he was there to support me,” says Morgan, now an educator. “He gave me skills to listen, have compassion and not assume anything about people.”

Physician Warren Bell had an office on same floor as Zigler and valued their conversations.

“Every time I met him in the corridor, he had something interesting to say about his work in Africa and he was very involved with starting the storefront school,” says Bell. “He is someone who put social and ethical values side by side with his professional work.”

Longtime friend Dorothy Argent agrees.

“I worked with him starting in 1998 when he got one of the labour market contracts and he remained a strong, true friend,” she says, pointing out she has read many online comments by students confirming how instrumental he was in raising awareness for special needs education and services. “Richard was true to himself, never influenced by what others thought about him and stayed true to his beliefs. He dared to do something different, go somewhere different and meet people.”

Longtime student support employee under Zigler’s direction, Rita Beraro is organizing a celebration of life at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Outdoor School on 10th Ave. SE, an event she says is “an opportunity to honour a man who has created so many opportunities for people to have access to education in different ways.”

Following the ceremony, there will be a social. Donations of finger food are welcome. Donations are invited to cover funerary costs in etransfers to richardziglermemorialfund@gmail.com. Excess funds will go to the cerebral palsy foundation that Zigler deeply care for in Mombasa, Kenya.


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barb.brouwer@saobserver.net

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