Suzuki reveals outsider status in book

KATHY RUMLESKI - London Free Press

, Last Updated: 3:38 PM ET

“The time I arrived for Grade 10 at (London) Central, social circles were pretty well established and I was a total stranger, a hick from a farm, an outsider.”

Award-winning scientist, environmentalist, author and broadcaster David Suzuki — recently voted the fifth greatest Canadian in a CBC debate — has always felt he doesn’t belong.

So much so, in fact, that the former Londoner wanted to title his new book The Outsider.

Instead it’s simply called, David Suzuki: The Autobiography and he’ll be reading from it tomorrow night at the Grand Theatre, where he’ll also get a Green Umbrella award from the Urban League for community citizenship and involvement.

“My family rejected the title (of Outsider). They said, . . . ‘Certainly, the Canadian public doesn’t look at you that way.’ But in my head, I’ve always felt like an outsider,” Suzuki, 70, said in a phone interview this week.

From being picked on by other Japanese children in internment camps during the Second World War to the loneliness he felt at Central secondary school in London with no “best buddy to pal around with,” Suzuki feared rejection and loss.

The host of The Nature of Things, who can be standoffish to people who see him on the street, writes in the autobiography that his “teenage reticence to engage in conversation returns” when the public approaches him.

During the interview, he added, “When people say nice things, like, ‘You’re the greatest Canadian,’ I don’t know how to enjoy that. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, now I’ve got to live up to that.’ ”

The turning point in his life came when his father berated him for not running for Central’s student presidency.

“For dad to say, ‘There’s no disgrace in losing. . . . The important thing is trying . . . .’ — that was huge.”

Suzuki campaigned as a “outie” and garnered votes from students who weren’t with the in-crowd, but wanted a voice. He won the election with more votes than all of the other candidates combined and began his lifelong role as a leader.

As he struggled to make friends, Suzuki, who lived on Fernley Avenue in London, spent most of his teenage years exploring nature instead.

“My main solace was a large swamp a 10-minute bike ride from our house. Any marsh or wetland is a magical place, filled with mystery and an incredible variety of plant and animal life. I was an animal guy and insects were my fascination.”

He believes the swamp was the Sifton Bog.

He said London, like other cities, has “assaulted the environment.”

“London is not the city I knew as a child. The growth of huge suburbs around London using up good farmland, it shouldn’t go on any longer.”

While his schedule will not permit him to spend much time here during his book tour stop, Suzuki said what he would like to do is visit Springbank Park.

The man whom three First Nations peoples have named Mountain in their traditional languages, said he doesn’t always recognize the man he sees in the mirror.

“I can’t believe the old geezer that’s looking back at me. The reality is time marches on and your body begins to show the signs of aging. I know I’m in the last part of my life.”

Student election a catalyst to lifelong role as leader

During the interview, he added, “When people say nice things, like, ‘You’re the greatest Canadian,’ I don’t know how to enjoy that. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, now I’ve got to live up to that.’ ”

The turning point in his life came when his father berated him for not running for Central’s student presidency.

“For dad to say, ‘There’s no disgrace in losing. . . . The important thing is trying . . . .’ — that was huge.”

Suzuki campaigned as a “outie” and garnered votes from students who weren’t with the in-crowd, but wanted a voice. He won the election with more votes than all of the other candidates combined and began his lifelong role as a leader.

As he struggled to make friends, Suzuki, who lived on Fernley Avenue in London, spent most of his teenage years exploring nature instead.

“My main solace was a large swamp a 10-minute bike ride from our house. Any marsh or wetland is a magical place, filled with mystery and an incredible variety of plant and animal life. I was an animal guy and insects were my fascination.”

He believes the swamp was the Sifton Bog.

He said London, like other cities, has “assaulted the environment.”

“London is not the city I knew as a child. The growth of huge suburbs around London using up good farmland, it shouldn’t go on any longer.”

While his schedule will not permit him to spend much time here during his book tour stop, Suzuki said what he would like to do is visit Springbank Park.

The man whom three First Nations peoples have named Mountain in their traditional languages, said he doesn’t always recognize the man he sees in the mirror.

“I can’t believe the old geezer that’s looking back at me. The reality is time marches on and your body begins to show the signs of aging. I know I’m in the last part of my life.”


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