Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
September 25, 2002
Professor emeritus, 86, pens first fiction work
University of Guelph professor emeritus Alexander Ross has capped three decades of non-fiction writing with the publication of his first novel at age 86.
“I’ve spent many years teaching about the novel, so I thought it would be boldly satisfying to try my hand at writing one myself,” said Ross, who joined the Ontario Agricultural College’s (OAC) English department in 1948, became head in 1960 and played a major role in establishing the English department at the newly chartered University of Guelph. He served as chair of the department until 1974, retired in 1978 and was named University professor emeritus in 1987.
Ross has published a total of six works of non-fiction. They include The College on the Hill, a history of the University of Guelph that was first published in 1974. A second edition was written with Guelph history professor Terry Crowley for OAC’s 125th anniversary in 1999. Ross also wrote the memoir Slow March to a Regiment, which chronicles his own path from childhood to military service. The result of his first venture into fiction is A Part of Me Is Missing, a tale of a young man who returns to his family farm in southwestern Ontario after four years as an infantryman during the Second World War. The narrative begins as James McKay, a graduate of OAC who lost a leg in the war, recovers from his wounds in the Christie Street Military Hospital in Toronto, then reunites with his parents in West Zorra of Oxford County.
“This novel takes the reader to questions that stirred many people in 1945,” Ross said. McKay contemplates his future in the wake of the ongoing physical and mental scars of war. He realizes he is no longer able to take over the farm as he had hoped and as his parents had expected. Like others of his generation, he is torn between the pull of his rural roots and the lure of city life and new opportunities. And as he faces the future, McKay learns more about his past.
Ross knows of what he writes. Like the novel’s central character, he grew up on a Zorra Township farm. He is also a Second World War veteran, having served in the United Kingdom, Italy and northwestern Europe. But that’s where the similarities end. “All the characters are fictional,” he said. He calls A Part of Me Is Missing his “last book.” After spending three years on the project, he plans to give writing a rest and turn his efforts to volunteer work in Sault Ste. Marie. where he now lives to be close to his daughter, Celia, who is president of Algoma University College.
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