Earle Parkhill Scarlett(1952–1958)
“One of the greatest joys of my life is the fact that from the time I was able to crawl, books have been one of the great stimuli of my life. I don’t think I would’ve lived in the world if there were no books.” These profound words were spoken by Dr Earle Parkhill Scarlett, former University of Alberta Chancellor.
Born to parents Robert Arthur Scarlett (a Methodist minister) and Alma Edith Parkhill in 1896 in High Bluff, Manitoba (approximately 50 miles northwest of Winnipeg), the young boy was ever surrounded by books … there were always stocked bookshelves in the home and young Scarlett quickly came to value the power of the written word. Although the family would move often, the books always travelled with them. Young Scarlett would continue this appreciation of both reading and writing throughout his life, often known to relax in a leather armchair with the company of a good book and his pipe in his later years.
A long-time student, Scarlett began studies in both Latin and Greek at age 10. Obviously, Scarlett was a quick study as, remarkably, just five short years later, he was prepared to go to University. His parents could provide little in the way of financial support, so the boy was required to earn his own way. To this end, Scarlett worked at whatever he could find; the jobs generated much-needed income and he didn’t turn down any offers. His experience includes being a store clerk, a construction camp labourer, and a train sleeping car conductor.
While collecting train tickets from passengers was anything but dangerous, there would be far more risky work ahead. Military service called for Scarlett in 1915, when he enlisted as a gunner with the Second Machine Gun Battalion in France during World War I. Perilous work indeed, and, three years later, Scarlett was injured in action. Following seven long months receiving hospital care, Scarlett recovered and considered his career options. In researching, he spoke to many of his father’s friends and learned that many of these individuals were unsatisfied and unfulfilled with their work. If they could live life over again, many of these same individuals explained that they would choose to study medicine.
Seeming that medicine was the field of choice and with such knowledge in-hand, Scarlett enrolled in the University of Toronto to study this specific field. Notably, while a student here, Scarlett also served as the first editor of the school’s publication, the University of Toronto Medical Journal. Graduating in 1924, Scarlett found related work in Detroit, Iowa City and, finally, Calgary. The move to Calgary to begin work with the Calgary Associate Clinic occurred in 1930. Scarlett settled in Calgary for many years to follow, becoming a specialist in internal medicine with the clinic as well as Senior Consultant in Medicine at the Colonel Belcher Military Hospital and thus ending his previously nomadic lifestyle.
Scarlett may have had a stethoscope in one hand and a pen in the other as he still felt the urge to read and write. He studied the works of poet John Keats, joined the Baker Street Irregulars, and spearheaded the Calgary Associate Clinic Historical Bulletin.
News of the now prominent Calgarian filtered north and Scarlett was nominated to become University of Alberta Chancellor. Being selected over Dr Milton Ezra LaZerte (a former University dean) and Laurence Yeomans Cairns (an Edmonton barrister), Scarlett succeeded Dr Fred G. McNally and remained at this post from 1952 to 1958.
During his time with the University of Alberta, Scarlett also served as Chairman of the Selection Committee of the University's National Award in Letters. He always remained a writer: upon his death on June 14, 1982 at 85 years, Scarlett had written approximately 450 articles and papers. And, until his final days, Scarlett also remained a lifetime member of the Calgary YMCA, thereby demonstrating a strong support of community causes. Further to his passing, Scarlett was survived by three children (two daughters and a son) and eight grandchildren.
It seems impossible to sum up Scarlett’s life in just a few paragraphs; however, Dr Fred McNally delivered a moving tribute as he presented him the Degree of the Doctor of Laws. McNally respected Scarlett immensely, as proven by his speech where he referred to Scarlett as “a brilliant scholar, a Doctor of Medicine, a Doctor of Laws, a veteran of World War I who bears in his body the devotion of his devotion to his country, champion of the Humanities, inspiring teacher, able administrator … a citizen who is the pride of his community and a great Canadian.” For a lover of words, these are fine words indeed.