There were lots of days that Daryl Mutz was, frankly, terrified to enter the classroom at Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary.
It was the late 1950s and mid-1960s, and Tupper wasn’t just another high school. It was a dumping ground for kids who had been kicked out or didn’t fit in at other schools. There were gang members, criminals and kids with a wide array of emotional and mental problems.
“Daryl was bird-like. Slight,” says his close friend and Tupper colleague Maida Long, who affectionately described him as Tweety Bird.
“He had to brace himself every day to go into work because of all of the challenges that he thought he couldn’t meet,” she says, noting that one of the most troubled students wrote on the board using his own excrement.
Mutz taught a pre-employment class aimed at helping those marginalized and difficult students find jobs, using some unusual methods to try to at least engage them.
“Here was this little guy teaching them macramé and beading,” says Long. “He was so artistic and so uncritical. They loved him.
“He was trying his best when obviously nobody else wanted to bother with them. Yet, he was trying to help them. I think they might even have felt protective of him.”
To him, these students mattered and, by bravely showing up every day himself, Mutz let them know that he wasn’t going to give up on them.
Heaven knows that others did. Long recalls one teacher dying after he threw himself down a garbage chute. Another got into his car, started driving to school but then didn’t stop until he got to Montreal.
Born in 1931 in Vulcan, Alta., Mutz’s ancestors included United Empire Loyalists and a brewery owner. He hated his last name, says Long. But with a laugh, she notes that he couldn’t actually be bothered going through the process of changing it.
As a young man he travelled in Africa and taught for a year in Kenya, where the vivid colours fed his artistic soul.
When he was back teaching in Vancouver, Mutz perfected the art of designing and making intricately patterned, Persian-style carpets before he turned to making exquisite beaded lamps — hundreds of them that were as beloved as children. Occasionally, he would give one or two away and often later regretted the gifts.
He never married, but Daryl did fall in love. But it was a different time and he was terrified that if anyone found out he was gay he would lose his job, his friends, his home, his life.
He was so secretive that even as Long talks about him and his longtime partner Arthur Knaus, she admits that she feels uncomfortable mentioning it.
For a while they lived together on a farm in Cloverdale, where Mutz had a beautiful garden and built “an amazing chicken house that looked like a French château with stained-glass windows.”
But when the farm became too much work, they moved to the West End and into separate apartments.
Long says it seemed to work better that way. Mutz painted the walls of his apartment fuchsia with gilded borders “like a bordello,” Long says with a laugh. It was stuffed full with his beautiful carpets, his beloved lamps, beads and other bits and bobs for the next one he was designing.
Knaus, a minimalist, lived in a beige apartment. He volunteered at St. Paul’s Hospital and every afternoon would walk up to Daryl’s apartment for tea and cookies.
“Daryl grumbled about Arthur coming every day,” says Long. “But then he complained on the days that he didn’t.”
Knaus died in 2010. Four years later, on Jan. 27, 2014, Mutz died from a massive stroke. He was 83, and in addition to leaving behind a disagreeable Boston terrier named Cedric, Mutz has left an incredible legacy.
“He truly cared about each of us, and made school so interesting and fun,” wrote one woman after his obituary appeared in the newspaper. He’d taught her in 1958. “What confidence you instilled.”
Another, who is now a grandfather, wrote: “Thank you for being a friend to a confused young teenager … Your views, your very presence, an open to the window to the range of life’s possibilities. I hope to repay my debt to you by how I hold my grandchildren.”
Beyond those living legacies, in his will Mutz has provided for another generation of those he cared about most — kids, dogs and animals.
His $550,000 donation to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School program is the largest ever received from a single individual. His commitment to helping older kids will ensure that for many years students who come hungry to Vancouver Technical Secondary School will get breakfast before classes begin.
The $275,000 he gave to New Westminster Animal Shelter — also that organization’s single biggest donation — will ensure that irascible dogs like his own Cedric will continue to be cared for.
His generosity didn’t end there. Mutz also gave $165,000 for street kids at Covenant House, and $110,000 for the Burnaby Wildlife Rescue Centre.
Mutz would be pleased to know how the money is being used, says Long. Her only regret? That she can’t tell him how much his contributions both in life and death are appreciated.
• To donate to Adopt-a-School go to vansunkidsfund.ca
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com