Trent Report Online

Mr. Dressup: words of wisdom, inspiration and advice

Ernie Coombs - Mr. DressupIn spite of cool temperatures and a drizzle that threatened downpour, thousands remained in their seats outside Trent's Bata Library to hear Mr. Dressup, a.k.a. Ernie Coombs, address the June 1st convocation. One of two honorary Doctor of Laws recipients, Coombs' remarks during the afternoon ceremony delighted the crowd much as he delighted audiences in his 30 years on cbc television.

"I'll never again get a chance to dress up like this," he quipped in reference to the academic gown, and his years of pulling costumes from the Tickle Trunk.

Dr. Stephen Brown noted that Coombs has been much celebrated for his work with children and the arts and called the resemblance to Mr. Dressup "striking".

"Both are mild-mannered, humorous, self-effacing and gentle; both exude love, concern, and caring; both know intuitively that the child is born wise and that laughter is the source of what is good in human nature."

"When Mr. Dressup came into our living rooms there were Things to Make, Stories to Hear, Songs to Sing, and Costumes to Wear. Play became simple, gentle, and all the more wonderful for its sudden focussed quiet," Brown said. " We learned that the imagination was a contemplative place, that the modest could also be marvellous."

Coombs commented that he was "still a bit bemused" at the honour being bestowed upon him. "I believe that I am supposed to address to you who are now poised to go out into the world, a few helpful suggestions - a 'bon mot' or two, perhaps a clever parable, a heartwarming recollection from my past - in essence I have the opportunity to be a guidepost to your careers, while at the same time I try to justify my own."

He said it seemed too easy to just come up with the old cliches. "Now is the time for words of wisdom, words of inspiration, words of advice.

"First, wisdom: what wisdom have I acquired during 30 years of making a variety of objects out of toilet paper rolls? Is doing crafts on TV a source of wisdom? Apparently not - so let's move on to my next effort.

"Inspiration: how can I inspire you to select and pursue a career? I can't point to myself, because for over three decades, I've been involved in a career that I didn't choose, and indeed, never remotely dreamed of. Even some years ago when I turned 65, I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up! I seem to have been the target of good fortune for most of my life. I recommend it, and hope that good fortune will come to you, and that you'll make the most of it.

"And finally, words of advice: what can I say that you haven't already heard as little kids on weekday mornings when you watched cbc television? So, keep an open mind, and an open heart. Don't take life too seriously - it doesn't last forever. And may I remind you for the last time: keep your crayons sharp, your sticky tape untangled, and always put the top back on your markers."

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Last updated June 20, 2001