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Actor Mag Ruffman's three remarkable teachers made her believe that her mind could expand forever. They made the whole world a better place, she says.
ruff.jpg (64365 bytes) “I fiercely loved all my public school teachers,” Mag Ruffman asserts, “but I managed to select three.”

In 1963, Avonel Monkman taught Grade 1 at L. M. McConaghy Public School in Richmond Hill. “She was very stern with us,” says Ruffman, “but she clearly loved us and she taught me how to read. For this I am forever indebted to her.”

Although she wanted to be an astronaut then, not an actor, Ruffman loved to read out loud. She used to flip ahead through the reader, looking for the passages with the most exclamation points, like when the dog got into the swimming pool. “When we got to that page,” Ruffman recounts, “I would carry on, I poured my heart into it and I would make these really dramatic scenes. Mrs. Monkman must have appreciated it because somehow I got the idea this was fun.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m citing these three teachers, because they put up with me, because I had way too much energy,” Ruffman says.

The energy that made her a rambunctious student continues. Mag Ruffman is an actor (Olivia Dale in Road to Avonlea), contractor and carpenter, and a host, creator and writer. She currently has two shows on WTN, A Repair to Remember and Men on Women, and a third in development.

Ruffman encountered her second remarkable teacher, Marilyn Letcher, in Grade 6. “That was the year everyone was starting to get bras and it was a huge scourge if you didn’t have a bra. Mrs. Letcher had this really calming effect on the Grade 6 mentality.

“For one thing, she was a total babe. She had that high beehive hair and was just so hip and she spoke with the clearest diction I can remember in a teacher. She was strict but had a really even hand in the classroom. She was noble. You wanted to be like her.”

Ruffman remembers her class as terribly boisterous and that she used to fall down dramatically, just for fun. “You can see what Mrs. Letcher had to put up with,” says Ruffman, “but she had this quality of self-possession and grace and yet leadership that was inspiring.”

Joyce Insley was Ruffman’s Grade 8 teacher. “Mrs. Insley was a true grammarian,” says Ruffman, “Consequently, my grammar rocks. I can write because she was extremely encouraging. Taking a sentence apart and breaking it down into pieces – I loved doing that. But you had to have someone instructing you who thought it was fun, too, or you were going to hate grammar. I just love it when somebody knows whether to use a colon or a semicolon. It’s like knowing how to set a table and which fork to pick up first.”

Ruffman also credits Insley with teaching her how to crochet. “I was left-handed and so she had to reverse everything for me. Now I work in a different medium – construction or carpentry or wood. But that was when I learned I could create something.”

That year, Ruffman also got her first taste of stage glory. She recalls, “We did the hippie version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Mrs. Insley gave me the biggest part – the narrator. Not that I was that good or even that people told me I was good. But that was the beginning of a career. It was so fun.”

Ruffman concludes: “I was passionately devoted to these teachers. And because I felt that way, I did really well in school. I think that if a teacher can create that bond with their students where the students truly love them, well then the whole world is a better place. You’re fascinated by everything and curious. You think your mind can go on expanding forever because somewhere along the line back in public school, somebody gave you the idea that it could.”