A few days ago, a student Chris Rose taught in a 1964 Vancouver kindergarten class called him up. The man's mother had died and he thought she would have wanted Rose to know. Though the longtime educator never had the opportunity to teach the children of his former pupil's, Rose said he became lifelong friends with parents of the kids who sat in his classroom, children whose weddings he would eventually attend.
"I think that kind of relationship is something I've really enjoyed," Rose said.
It speaks to his devotion to students and their education, for which he has been recognized by the Kamloops school district. Rose is the recipient of the 2016-2017 Owl Award for Excellence in Public Education. He retired from teaching in 1996, but spent the better part of 35 years in the Kamloops district as a principal, then as a trustee, and has dedicated much of his retirement to helping children with special needs. He is the founder of the Chris Rose Centre for Autism and continues to play a significant role in fundraising for the organization.
"I think I would be just as happy to have my life over again, to start or continue with what I'm doing," said Rose, who has been happily married to Gine for 57 years and has seven adult grandchildren. "It's been my passion."
Rose was honoured with the Order of B.C. in 2010 and continues to credit people around him for his fulfilling career -- fellow teachers, principals, school staff and parents. Referring to his time as principal of Beattie elementary, Rose said he had tremendous support from parents, fostering an atmosphere of genuine care.
"I think if one shows an interest in children, parents will recognize that and go the extra mile in providing what they can offer because I think it becomes almost like a family affair, which is something you can't replicate in a system where there isn't that close relationship," Rose said. "With anything like education or social work, it can't become a job. It's got to be more."
Rose began his teaching career in his home country of Northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, but left when the southern Africa nation gained independence. He then spent a short period of time in England, where he had earlier undergone training to work with deaf children.
"There was a job advertised in North Vancouver, so that was it," Rose said. "Although I didn't know much about Canada, it just sounded like that would be a wonderful opportunity. It could have been disastrous. We came across by train and every day we got a little further away from everything we knew. We were a long way from home. But people were very hospitable and friendly and that was the best part of coming here."
Rose's job brought him to Kamloops in 1970 after a period as principal at Jericho Hills School for the Deaf. He was principal at Fitzwater School for the Handicapped, then went to Overlander secondary, now the Henry Grube Education Centre. He was principal at Happyvale elementary and ended his in-school career at Beattie.
Upon retirement, Rose was asked to help revive the autism program, Giant Steps West, which was in 2002 renamed the Chris Rose Centre for Autism. Opportunity has taken him to other countries, but Rose rarely thought of leaving Kamloops. He wouldn't have gained more meaningful experience in any larger districts, he said.
"I couldn't have done better. The opportunities I've had, the opportunities that have been given to me through the school district, they've allowed me to try different things and I don't think anyone could have had a better experience," Rose said.
Much has changed in education since the mid-1960s, particularly the integration of special-needs students in public schools. It's what led Rose to elementary education because he could see that was the direction in which the system was moving.
"I think it was certainly a necessary step, but I think the problem was they didn't have enough funding to really see it through properly," Rose said. "I think a lot of the children really miss out and, you know, that's the good thing about the Chris Rose Centre, is they have the opportunity to also be in a regular school as well as a special-needs school. I think there needs to be a continuum of service."
Rose has worked with special-needs students since the early stages of his career, inspired by one child who struggled with speech that led Rose to seek special education training in Manchester. In coming to Canada, Rose was impressed with the resources available and the opportunity to test new technology and strategies, something he would have missed out on had he stayed in Zimbabwe.
He has also devoted his efforts to aiding homeless youth, sitting on the board of the ASK Wellness Society, working with Out of the Cold and donating to Covenant House Vancouver, which works with street youth. Through his work with Rotary, Rose has also fundraised for rural schools in Zimbabwe.
"I think any child that has a need is one that is of interest to me," Rose said, "And, beyond that, any child and any way I can help improve their lot in life."