Michael Berry (1949-1954)

MIchael BerryI left School in 1954 as my family emigrated to Canada later that year. In 1957 I entered the internationally respected McGill University in Montreal from which I emerged in 1961 with an honours degree in Economics and Political Science. I accompanied my academic work with regular appearances each year for the University Football Team. My out-of-character valedictory was to produce McGill’s annual Red & White Musical Comedy Revue, a major venture which came close to jeopardizing the “honours” portion of my degree.

Graduation took me to the capital, Ottawa, first for a spell in the Department of Finance (Treasury) followed, unexpectedly, by an assignment as Special Assistant to the Minister of Justice, which provided some invaluable experience for the future in navigating the federal political/bureaucracy nexus. I then returned to McGill for post-graduate studies in international relations (1963-64) and was pleasantly surprised to be made Captain of the Football team to which I had happily returned.

At the conclusion of the academic year I won entry to the Department of Foreign Affairs, thereby launching 35 years as a Canadian diplomat. My career took me through a range of quite different positions in Ottawa and abroad. My first foreign assignment was to the Canadian Military Mission in Berlin from 1966 to 1968 when The Wall still loomed large, the Cold War was very much in play and when travelling around East Berlin meant being tracked by the East German Secret Service. Back in Ottawa I was part of a team trying to manage Canada’s multifaceted relationship with the United States, always the largest challenge for Canadian Ministers and the supporting bureaucracy. This was followed by four years at our High Commission in London (1971-75), where I spent a good part of my time trying to mitigate the negative effects on Canadian exports to the UK as a result of British entry to the European Common Market, as well as reporting on the gyrations of the UK economy.

Michael with FR and Mrs Poskitt, taken at their home in the 1960s
Michael with FR and Mrs Poskitt, taken at their home in the 1960s

After a senior Ottawa assignment (1975-79) in economic and commercial policy, I received my first head of mission appointment as High Commissioner to Singapore (the designation High Commissioner, rather than Ambassador, is given when the posting is to another Commonwealth country). It was a period when Canada was increasingly engaged in the Asia-Pacific Region as it is today. While I hosted many social occasions at the Canadian Residence in Singapore, one that gave me particular pleasure was that at which FR and Mrs Poskitt were guests of honour and the other guests were Old Boltonians Martin Poskitt, Brian Appleyard, Jack Thompson and their spouses, all of whom were living in Singapore at the time. It felt rather good to be in charge of a function attended by “FR”. During my posting I became the first Canadian and, to my knowledge, the first Old Boltonian to play for the Singapore Cricket Club.

The next head of mission appointment was as Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris (1988-1991). The OECD provides an important forum for the Developed Countries to debate and promote policy prescriptions for the consideration of its member governments. The ongoing agenda there is a feast for those involved in government policy making. Then on to Australia as High Commissioner (1991-1995) where the many similarities (climate apart) between our two countries underlined the always cooperative bilateral relationship – even when we had our disagreements. On my return to Ottawa I was “rewarded” by being given the complex task of coordinating Canada’s role in the reconstruction of Bosnia, so badly needed after the bloody internecine warfare that followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

My foreign service tenure ended in academia in 2000 after two years as Diplomat In Residence at Vancouver Island University, where I gave lectures in Canadian government and international relations. Subsequently, I served on the Boards of the British Columbia Centre for International Education, the Nanaimo Port Authority and the Canadian Pacific Pilotage Authority.

For those who might wonder, I did not encounter much difficulty in becoming ‘Canadianized’ in the years after my arrival in the land of the Maple Leaf at the age of 16, but my Bolton/Lancashire roots do remain very much intact. On one perhaps noteworthy occasion in 1984 I was dining at 10 Downing Street, thanks to my role as one of Canada’s senior officials preparing for the G-7 Leaders’ London Summit, I took no small pleasure in telling my bemused British counterpart that I was Lancashire born and a Bolton School product!

I would be remiss if I did not mention my good fortune in having two happy marriages: to Linda who passed away in 2000,and with whom I produced three fine offspring, all university graduates, and now to Anna who I first met in Singapore in 1980.

What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?

Both my parents started work at age 14 so, not surprisingly, as the eldest of three brothers I was the first to gain entry to Bolton School after the 11 Plus Exam and following the excruciating interviews with various masters, concluding with the Headmaster. I had no idea until much later that I entered as a scholarship student. My mother always said that learning of my acceptance made for one of the happiest days of her life!

What is your fondest Bolton School memory?

It occurred during the annual cricket match between staff and the First XI. I had just hit the towering English/Cricket master, Ron Booth, for four. Not too pleased, he came glowering down the pitch, hands on hips and asked if I was wearing my protector. I nodded yes. His next ball was short and quick and I hooked it for four more, much to the delight of French master, Geoff Banks, who was keeping wicket and who reminded me of his reaction many years later when he visited us in Paris. I am pleased to say that Ron Booth’s umbrage faded overnight.

Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?

I would not want to single out any one member of the teaching staff as having inspired me, but I certainly left School believing that several members had been instrumental in engaging my mind in matters academic,(excluding physics and chemistry!) and in drawing out a rather shy boy, so that after my years at School I was much better prepared for the next of life’s passages. In retrospect, I think that many of the staff would have been stars in a BBC mini- series entitled “The Bolton Masters”.

What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?

It opened up my mind to a totally new world and gave me opportunities not only to engage in taking on academic challenges, but also various extra-curricular activities which, I like to think, helped nurture a more rounded personal development. I certainly attribute the School experience to giving me the essential foundation for my later career achievements.

What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?

Clearly, studies should be the number one priority. But, as I indicated above, pursue some of the other opportunities and challenges that School offers. They will pay dividends in the years ahead both for those who head to university and those who choose a different career path. While at School, I joined the Scouts and became a Patrol Leader, had very minor roles in two School plays, boxed for Blackburn (won 3 lost 1),was awarded the Turner Geography Project Prize, played Cricket for the First XI and occasionally for the Football First XI, but just couldn’t find time for the Chess Club! Cricket alone has given me a wide variety of contacts, beyond the diplomatic milieu, both in Canada and overseas. Little did I know that School cricket would later lead to playing in Berlin, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Australia and representing the Province of Ontario in Canada, plus providing opportunities to meet an eclectic bunch of characters along the way.

What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?

Given my own School and University experience, it would be impossible not to applaud the objective of establishing genuine open access through the School’s Bursary Fund. Indeed, when I last donated to the School I asked that it should go to funding bursaries, as I will do so in future.