U.K. PM Liz Truss's B.C. school days — pink jumper, big fringe and a sense of humour

·4 min read

VANCOUVER — Brenda Montagano, a teacher at Parkcrest Elementary School in Burnaby, B.C., had a special item for show-and-tell on Tuesday — her own class photo from the same school 34 years ago, with new British Prime Minister Liz Truss in the second row.

Truss, who attended Grade 7 at Parkcrest in 1987-88, is remembered by Montagano as a bright and funny student with a "cool British accent."

"I would sometimes sit with her in the hallway doing work and she had this witty sense of humour,” said Montagano.

"You know, she would tell a joke and then have a little bit of a half-smile after she told the joke."

Montagano, who teaches Grades 5 and 6 at Parkcrest, had her pupils guess which classmate in the photo was Truss.

Truss had shared the same photo on Instagram and Twitter to mark Canada Day in 2018.

"30 years ago, I spent a year in Canada that changed my outlook on life," wrote Truss, who included the hashtags "CanadaDay," "maplespirit" and "pioneercountry."

Asked to identify herself, Truss had said: "Pink jumper. Big fringe."

Montagano — flipped collar, red hair — said it was "a bit surreal" to hear of her former classmate's new job.

On Monday, Truss, 47, succeeded Boris Johnson as the Conservative leader and became the U.K.'s third female prime minister.

Truss lived in Canada when her mathematician father taught at Simon Fraser University.

Montagano, a teacher for almost 25 years, recalled that Truss was also interested in mathematics and "settled in very quickly” during her brief time at Parkcrest, “no small feat” for a little girl from a different country.

“Sometimes it takes a while for kids to settle in and make friends .… She was only here for a year, but everybody remembers her, that she fit in very quickly, made friends quickly and was part of the community,” said Montagano.

Montagano used Truss as the basis for a class activity on Tuesday in which she invited students to write down their goals and dreams for this semester and the future.

“We talked about how you never know where the person beside you is going to end up. And we also talked about how your actions and your words really carry forwards with people,” said Montagano.

Truss's former teacher at Parkcrest, Bill Chambers, who has been retired for 15 years, said he doesn’t recall any “vivid details” of what exactly happened in Truss’s class.

Chambers said he almost dropped his phone when a reporter called to ask if he remembered the would-be prime minister was in his class 35 years ago.

“I’ve had lots of kids in my career, and they are all successful in whatever they choose, but I think that this is the only prime minister I think I’ve ever taught,” laughed Chambers.

After Googling Truss’s journey and seeing her Instagram post with all his students’ faces, the memories came back for him, said Chambers.

“That was a really, really good year and we did all kinds of great stuff,” said Chambers.

Chambers, who had spent at least 35 years in education, said it’s nice to be recognized for the work he did, but this is another level of recognition for him.

Andrew Lee, principal of Parkcrest Elementary, said there was excitement in the hallways as news spread of the connection to Truss at the start of the school year.

"To know that a student who walked these same halls as them went on to become prime minister of Britain is inspiring to students," said Lee in a written statement.

"It’s something tangible to show that they, too, can dream big and succeed — no matter what their interests and aspirations. We are proud of all of our students and staff — both current and former — and it is very nice to hear that Ms. Truss remembers her time so fondly at our school."

Truss became prime minister after winning the Conservative leadership race, beating former treasury chief Rishi Sunak in a party vote.

Truss has vowed to press ahead with the tax cuts and action to tackle Britain's energy crisis and heavily burdened health service.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Nono Shen, The Canadian Press