Lessons of bravery, compassion

Statue by Wynn Walters, BA’59, contributes to conversations about mental health

By Sonia Prezcator

Wynn Walters

A larger-than-life bronze sculpture by alumnus Wynn Walters has revived the memory of a Canadian war hero – and started a conversation about so much more.

“The resurrection of Sam Sharpe has been embraced wholeheartedly by people within our community and others further afield,” explained Walters, BA’59 (Journalism), whose statue portraying Lt.-Col. Samuel Simpson Sharpe was unveiled last year in Sharpe’s hometown of Uxbridge, Ont.

Sharpe was a celebrated soldier and sitting MP who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry in 1917 after the Battle of Passchendaele.

A year after the war broke out in 1914, he raised a battalion of men from around Durham Region and led them into a number of battles, including Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Avion. The war took a terrible toll on his men’s lives, as well as on Sharpe himself. Of the 1,145 men in the battalion, fewer than 10 per cent made it home alive.

Sharpe personally wrote a letter of condolence to each one of his men’s families.

Despite his heroics, Sharpe’s memory has been virtually erased from the history books after he died by suicide on May 25, 1918.

The statue portrays Sharpe in a moment of contemplation, rather than the more familiar ‘victory’ or ‘at atten-tion’ pose that define many First World War memorials and statues.

Wynn statue

“Lt.-Col. Sam Sharpe suffered in silence,” Walters explained. “It is my hope that his statue and story contribute to conversations about how we can do better for people. We need to have these conversations about mental illness and mental trauma.”

Largely a self-taught artist, Walters took up sculpture full-time after a 26-year telecommunications career. Practical training and experience came from close working relationships with two prominent American sculptors – Malcolm Harlow and Allan LeQuire.

“I was 17 years old when I left Tenby, a small seaside town in southwest Wales, to board a boat to come to Canada and begin my journey to study at Western,” said Walters, who credits his ability to communicate clearly, in whatever medium he uses, to former Western Journalism dean, Bud Wilde. “I was fortunate that I thrived at Western. But I worry about the many students today that are in crisis, from worrying about the cost of tuition and graduation debt to the reality that they will have to re-invent themselves many times over during their careers.”

Delighted at the beauty and vibrancy of Western’s campus, he dove into the complete university experience, from studying to socializing. He left his mark on university history, through his weekly cartoons in the student Gazette, as well as his cover design of the 1959 Western Yearbook.

He met the love of his life, Mary Margaret Walters, BScN’61, while at Western. In later Gazette cartoons, he hid the initials “MM” in tribute to her. Finding them was a running joke among his classmates.

After 60 years together, Walters continues to pay tribute to his university sweetheart, including a small carving of MM on the full-scale bronze statue of author Lucy Maud Montgomery he crafted and installed at Montgomery’s home in Leaskdale, Ont.

Walters leveraged his storytelling skills into a career that evolved from journalism, to public relations, to United Nations information officer stationed in Beirut, to VP for Northern Telecom. He confesses, however, that if he had to do it all over again, he would have become an artist much sooner.

“Stories are at the heart of the human experience, whether we use words, metal, wood or stone to express them.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of Alumni Gazette