Farewell to an amazing instructor

Lieutenant-Commander Syrus Stogran, fleet school Division Commander, presents Christensen with well wishes from Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. Photo by MS Giovanni Onucky

Lieutenant-Commander Syrus Stogran, fleet school Division Commander, presents Christensen with well wishes from Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. Photo by MS Giovanni Onucky

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Students and fellow teachers past and present from Naval Fleet School Pacific are saying their fond farewells to beloved instructor Captain (Retired) Dave Christensen.

Before his retirement last month, the 62-year-old was the only instructor at fleet school that could lecture on 14 subjects related to propulsion engineering, and the only instructor who could teach all the academic technical courses. Approximately 150 of Christensen’s friends, family and colleagues crowded into the Six Mile Pub for a May 30 retirement party, toasting an impressive teaching career that spanned five decades.

“Dave is a teacher like no other,” said fellow instructor, Master Seaman Carl Leblond. “Fleet School will carry on, other instructors will follow, but no one will ever come close to replacing Dave.”

It isn’t just his brilliance as a teacher of physics, electronics, propulsion engineering, and mathematics that MS Leblond and his peers rave about. He and many others describe Christensen as much more than just a “dedicated 24-7 instructor”, but also a mentor and true friend who was always willing to help well beyond the classroom walls. He offered extra help with studies to making repairs on cars free of charge at his home in Metchosin, based on the idea of “paying it forward”.

“It’s the interaction with students that I am going to miss most,” said Christensen.

RRMC and Beyond

His father Captain Otto (Chris) Christensen was a Danish immigrant who fought for Canada in the Second World War. So Christensen grew up on military bases at CFB Borden and Petawawa.

After attending University of Victoria for one year, he entered Royal Roads Military College (RRMC) in 1974 at the age 18 as a young officer cadet, studying an honours degree in science. He carried on to Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ont., where he graduated in 1978 with an honours in Math and Physics. While attending RMC, he also managed to earn his qualification as an aerospace engineer for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). 

At one point he considered embarking on a career as a dentist or an eye doctor, but his fascination with engines and science drew him to mechanics. Christensen says he can trace this back to age 15 when he first took an engine apart, becoming mesmerized with its different parts and how they interacted.

“From that point on I started seeing all the relationships between energy and machines everywhere I looked,” he said. “I gradually began to understand that understanding the flow of energy is understanding the flow of machines. I became enthralled with that.”

His first posting was to 416 Squadron at CFB Chatham where he worked as an avionics support officer and aircraft line servicing officer for the CF101-VooDoo interceptor aircraft. He later worked for the RCAF as an aircraft repair officer servicing fighter, trainer and helicopter aircraft.

Public Service Propulsion

He would return to the West Coast in 1982 and become a mathematics and physics instructor at RRMC. Despite his heavy course load teaching, Christensen obtained his BC Teacher’s Professional Certificate in 1987 and a Master’s degree in 1989.

In 1986 he applied for a new teaching position at Canadian Forces Fleet School (Pacific) in Esquimalt as a public service instructor teaching electronics and weapons technicians. He won the job competition over 11 other applicants. In 1993 he would return to RRMC to teach mathematics and electronics to officer candidates before heading back to Esquimalt one year later.

In 1994 he moved into Fleet School’s Marine Systems Engineering Division where he would stay until his retirement.

With his departure, and the attrition of other senior instructors, the school will be looking to recruit new educators. Christensen says the new instructors will need to have their hearts in it.

“Teaching is a helping profession, like medicine, so if you don’t want to help people don’t do it,” he said. “You aren’t doing it for the money, you’ve really got to love people and helping them achieve goals in their lives. Teaching is not for the faint of heart either, and also has a lot to do with listening and caring.”

Project Next

As for the future, he is looking forward to spending more time with his two children and partner Barb Taylor, a vice principal at a local school. He will continue to tinker and experiment with engines in his massive 2,500 square foot garage and his other garage at his winter home in Phoenix.

He’s been working on a new invention, an affordable and effective underwater trimmer that can clear away obstructing underwater plants such as bull rushes.

Those who couldn’t attend the party flooded a Facebook page for RCN stokers with fond memories and well-wishes of Christensen. Some commenters are former students such as Chief Petty Officer Second Class Andre Aubry, who now works as a Career Manager at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. His comment sums up the sentiments of the postings.

“You had a unique way of crossing teaching boundaries to reach your students that few could ever replace! Thank you for your service, commitment, genuine willingness to see our military men and women succeed.”

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