Fortunately and happily, I never had to appear in Provincial Judge Robert A. Stroud’s courtroom – or any other courtroom for that matter.
But Bob and I have had a few things in common.
We were born in the same year, though he grew up in Stellarton and I grew up in New Glasgow. We both graduated from high school in 1956 – Bob from Stellarton High, myself from New Glasgow High. In high school, we both turned out for rugby, my stay lasting two afternoons, his career being an all-star performance for three years.
Following graduation, we both left the county to attend university, supposedly knowing what our future destinations would be. Bob checked into Mount Allison to study commerce, I went to St. Francis Xavier as an engineering student.
We both discovered later that we were on the wrong path. He turned to law studies at Dalhousie, I turned to journalism at University of King’s College. All these years later, I think it’s safe to say we both took the proper turns at the fork in the road.
Bob is retired from a great career on the bench, I’m retired from a long career in newspapers, though I still write this Advocate column each week.
What’s the twist?
Our journeys seem to cross only at New Glasgow High class reunions. It happened at the 40th affair in 1996. It happened again recently at the 60th. I’m a bona fide member of the ’56 class. Bob’s around because he married one of my classmates, Helen MacLeod.
Each time I see him I envision him, not wearing judicial robes, but rugby shorts and shirt – in Stellarton High colours, naturally. There was no green and white for him.
There’s a reason I associate him with rugby.
During the mid-1950s, I was writing high school sports for the Evening News. As a result, I never missed the Stroud shows against New Glasgow and other schools. He was a star, I assure you.
At first, Bob shared the spotlight with another outstanding rugby player. John Roy was a magnificent member of the Stellarton High squad and Bob advanced in the game in John’s shadow. When Roy finished his career, Stroud became the leader.
Bob’s athletic experiences began in street hockey and quickly advanced to grammar school hockey. He didn’t become a big scorer but it was his first involvement with an organized sport.
When he arrived at Stellarton High, he went out for rugby “because it was the thing the boys were doing.”
Ivan Murray, the coach in Stroud’s first season, placed the rookie in the scrum. Having had a two-day experience in the scrum in New Glasgow, I was pleased when Bob told me the position was “really, really tough.”
Things changed the next season. Jack MacLean became coach and moved Bob to offence, where he learned quickly by watching Roy.
“I remember when John won the overall scoring championship and I learned a lot from him. That was only natural, following in his footsteps.”
Stroud’s leadership led to good times.
New Glasgow had been winning championships regularly, but with Stroud the big ball carrier, Stellarton won A and B titles.
There’s one scoring play Bob remembers well.
“The first time I scored, it was against New Glasgow and I’ll never forget that. It was a scoreless game right up to the fourth quarter, and I can still picture in my mind that John passed the ball to me when we were up inside the New Glasgow 10-yard line. I faked a pass to the next guy in the line, but I pulled the ball back and I went over. I think that was the first touchdown I ever scored and it turned out to be the first game we beat New Glasgow. That’s still clear in my memory.”
That was his first TD, but by season’s end he was the league’s leader in touchdowns.
By grade 12, Stroud was truly the offensive leader.
“I was lean, I could run like the devil. The only guy who could beat me in track was Wayne Dickson (of New Glasgow). You know how fast Wayne was! He could always get a step or two on me. Other than that, I was pretty fast.”
Years later, Bob was talking about how disappointing it was that rugby had tailed off as a major school sport.
“They don’t seem to have that same competitive spirit that we had, especially when we played New Glasgow,” he told me. “They don’t even have a high school in each town now. And I think soccer has pretty much taken over from rugby.”
I certainly agree with him.
At Mount Allison, Stroud played only one season of football – his last year there. He later confessed he was sorry he hadn’t gone out for the team sooner.
I think his post-Mount years were an interesting story. With a commerce degree in his pocket, he wound up with the tax department in Halifax. But one thing kept gnawing at him. He wanted to become a lawyer.
And so it was back to the books, at Dal Law School. In 1969, he achieved that goal.
He was called to the bar the next year and, in 1987, he was appointed to the bench, serving for 16 years before retiring in 2003.
I remember him telling me not long after his retirement how he enjoyed his years in sports.
“It was a fun part of my life, absolutely. I look back on it with a great deal of fondness. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.”
Yes, he has a wonderful story. A rugby star. A good and honest man on the bench.
A good husband, a good father, a good grandfather.
And, yes, a good guy to see at our high school reunions.