It’s a circuit board that will be treasured

Article by Harvey Schachter – Photos by Curtis Maynard

Prof. Joey Bray dug it out, work half a decade ago by a final-year student. The circuit boards are drab, and don’t look particularly distinguished. But for the parents and brother of ex-cadet 23463 Harley Heywood, who died of brain cancer on February 7 – a month shy of his 30th birthday – it helped provide a better understanding of their son who left the family home in B.C. at age 18 for RMC and a new life that the university spawned.

The tour of the electrical and computer engineering labs was hosted by Scott Knight, head of the department and supervisor of Harley’s MA thesis on computer security. John and Brenda Heywood, and son Stirling and his friend Celine, marvelled at some of the robots being developed by current students but when they saw the circuit boards for a project on targeting it brought them all closer to what Harley had been doing at university.

At a Celebration of Life later that day, at the Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi building on Montreal Street, where Harley had been a student and volunteer instructor, Knight talked about Harley as a “star,” an exceptional student the likes of which a professor only sees occasionally. He had come to RMC with a dream developed by the age of 10 of being a fighter pilot. He had a private and commercial pilot’s licence and had also flown gliders. But his dream was thwarted when a brain tumour struck in his second year, and he received a medical release from the military. When he recovered from surgery to excise the tumour and radiation, he returned to his studies, where he led his new class the following two years, Knight noted. His master’s thesis was nominated for Governor General’s Award for being amongst the top five per cent in Canada. And Knight said that his work after the master’s thesis – and before cancer returned – with Community Security Establishment Canada will continue to defend this country from foreign invaders for many years.

After the lab visits, the family was shown by Rod McDonald, executive head of the RMC Foundation, and Bryan Bailey, executive director of the ex-cadet club, where a commemorative stone of Harley will rest close to the Memorial Arch. Stirling let the wind of that day’s snow squall scatter some of Harley’s ashes on the terrain where cadets march when they enter and leave the university. 3938 Peter Kirkham, the ex-cadet who with his wife Terry purchased the stone, met Harley through their mutual interest in tai chi and at the event later talked of how Harley’s abilities aroused the mentoring instincts in him and others who saw greatness. “In 30 short years he accomplished so much; we can only dream of what it might have been if he had remained with us a little longer,” said Kirkham.

Those were comforting words for the parents. But so was the glimpse the day provided of their son’s activities, a life that because of the distance from home, the complexity of his studies and later the secrecy was a bit mystifying. They even spent some time at Wong’s Garden restaurant on Weller Ave. sampling some of his favourite Chinese dishes – the hot and sour soup that he would take to combat colds and flu, the deep fried salty squid that after he first tried it became a favourite, the Singapore Noodle that were a staple, and the General Tao’s chicken and eggplant and scallops that he loved sharing with newcomers.

And along with the memories, they were taking back home two circuit boards to treasure.

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