Why one lifelong learner keeps coming back for more

Photo by Dan Toulgoet

At six-foot-five, Hugh Lindsay is used to being the centre of attention. But performing a comedy routine for a nightclub audience this spring was something new for the 80-year-old Vancouverite. A dedicated lifelong learner, Hugh has taken 70 courses in SFU’s Liberal Arts and 55+ Program over the past 15 years. For his 69th course, he enrolled in something unexpected: the art of stand-up comedy.

“I do try to reach out and go into areas I haven’t done before, so I’m inclined to do something different each time,” he explains.

After several weeks in the classroom generating material and practising routines, the course culminated with a live event at a downtown club where each student was given a chance to show off their new comedy chops. When Hugh took to the stage, he drily poked fun at everything from his height to his fear of telephones.

“I’m used to being in front of people and I don’t suffer from stage fright,” he says. “But this might have been the toughest course I’ve taken. Still, it was a terrific experience.”

Tackling comedy was one more memorable moment in a lifetime of trying new things. Born and raised in England, Hugh made his way to Canada in 1965. He began his career as a chartered professional accountant and went on to work in corporate management, including a brief stint at SFU in the ’70s before moving to ICBC, where he spent the next 19 years.

In his early fifties, Hugh retired for the first time, to launch a new career as a teacher and writer. Drawing on his own extensive experience, he taught corporate seminars and workshops on subjects ranging from insurance to governance, and wrote some 15 books before retiring—again.

Not ready to rest on his laurels, Hugh turned his mind to scholarly pursuits next. At age 65, he took his first Liberal Arts and 55+ course at SFU and never looked back. Over the years, he’s returned to indulge his interests in everything from history and literature to science and math.

Taking classes not only keeps his mind healthy and active, he explains, but it’s also a way to fill the days: “It helps me feel that I’m living a purposeful life. When you’re no longer working, that’s important.”

Of course, Hugh has hardly been idle. Through the courses, he was introduced to the SFU Seniors Lifelong Learners Society, where he served on the board and made a number of friends. He remains active on various other committees and boards and even volunteers his time at local schools.

But in 2020, when the pandemic suspended most of his activities and prevented Hugh and his wife from seeing friends and family, he was grateful he could still count on SFU.

“The university did a superb job of transitioning to online,” he recalls. “When the world shut down, it was a real lifesaver to have those courses available.”

Hugh appreciated the quantity and quality of the resources each online course provided, allowing for a rich learning experience. While he remains keen on learning online, he was also happy to return to the downtown campus, where he’s now working on his 70th course: a history of scams and con artists.

Unlike many classmates who take courses purely for enjoyment, Hugh usually opts to write a reflective essay for each of his courses. The essay is only required for students working towards the Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate, and Hugh has now earned the certificate six times—more than any student in the program’s 48-year history. Not bad for someone who never had a degree, he chuckles.

“Writing an essay really enriches the experience for me,” explains Hugh. “It sparks ideas and makes the class more intellectually challenging. And getting the teacher’s feedback and comments on the essay is phenomenal.

“It reminds me that I may be 80,” he adds with a grin, “but I’ve still got it.”

By Kim Mah