Terry Riley: Beloved longtime educator, trustee, dies

Terry Riley, a man who spent 30 years with the Medicine Hat Public School Division, passed away last month. Riley is remembered as being larger than life, not only in the board room, but also in the community and across the province.

“He had a big physical presence, a booming voice and a mind that was a steel trap, he never forgot anything,” said trustee Rick Massini. Chair Catherine Wilson described him as being a great mentor, a kind man and one who always made sure everybody had a place to bring forward their thoughts.

“Being chair was very important to him and I think Terry would have been chair forever. He loved being a chair more than a trustee,” stated Wilson. Massini agreed and thought Riley was more effective on the board as a chair than as a trustee. Riley was a policy and procedure guru and believed process was everything. “He would always say,” said Massini, “without process you got chaos. That was a big thing for him and he would become impatient if a chair let things wander.”

Riley taught social studies at both Medicine Hat High School and Crescent Heights High School. He was a history buff through and through and would explain history as a story, making it interesting to those who were listening. In the classroom, he would act out what he was teaching, changing his voice to fit the characters.

“I still hear him as Winston Churchill,” said Wilson. “And I always thought how engaged he made those students. Terry made it come alive in the classroom and that is so powerful as a teacher. He did that for lots of students, he built them up to make them feel good about themselves.”

Massini shared a story Riley used to tell. He would say, “I taught my wife how to play chess, now she beats me every time. Then I taught her how to play bridge, now she beats me all the time. I just can’t win. Then I taught her how to play golf, and again she beats me every round. You know, I may not be good at those things, but I must be a heck of a good teacher.”

Riley was also a master with numbers. Massini was on numerous negotiating teams with Riley and remembers how he would put together spreadsheets comparing Medicine Hat to every other school district in the province.

Both Wilson and Massini remember travelling with Riley. For Wilson it was to Lethbridge once a month where Riley prepared her for the next election.

“He pushed my brain so hard on the drive there and back to Lethbridge, teaching me three years of school board policies. He did it with kindness and became a model for me when it came to helping me get to where I needed to be.”

Massini remembers many trips to Edmonton.

“Those are the fastest trips I’ve ever made in my life, both figuratively and literally. He could get to Edmonton faster than most people could get to Calgary.”

Both talked about Terry getting up in a room full of people to talk and how everyone became all ears when Riley got up to the microphone. Massini recalled that Riley was always well researched before he would speak on a subject.

Both remembered his passion for the division, the teachers, the board, but most of all the students. The first questions, even up to the last visits before his passing, were always about how everyone was on the board, in the schools, the teachers and always, the kids.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News