Roger Leighton Desprez

October 3, 2021
It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to our husband, father, grandfather and great- grandfather after a brief illness. We would like to thank all the healthcare professionals involved in his care for their sincere empathy and patience during these extraordinarily difficult times. Roger’s early life was spent in Calgary where he first discovered his lifelong passion for the arts through music. He played drums in the Calgary Regiment Tank Band, and by the age of ten, was percussionist for the Calgary Junior Orchestra.
After brief stints in Cumberland and then Courtenay, where he attended high school, he went on to UBC, earning a Bachelor Degree in Biology and a Masters in Education. This is also where he met his wife, Barbara, in the university’s musical society (Mussoc). They married in 1953 before moving to Dawson Creek where Roger taught high school for 3 years. This is also where Roger discovered his love of theatre. The new family, which now numbered 3, then moved to Nanaimo where he taught Biology at Nanaimo District Senior Secondary School for 30 years. By 1965 the family included 5 children.
He was the original drummer for the Nanaimo Musician’s Association Big Band (NMA) founded in 1967, and also played with the Nanaimo Symphony Orchestra, Nanaimo Concert Band, Al Campbell’s Dance Band and in the orchestra for most of Nanaimo Theatre Group’s musicals. He and fellow musician Isabel Highet pioneered a musical theatre program in the senior high school. In 1961 he, Barbara, and several others, co-founded the Nanaimo Theatre Group. During the following 60+ years with the group his talents were fully recognized as an actor, and an award- winning director and set designer (he designed and built over 90 sets with the group).He was also heavily involved in the acquisition, design and construction of their Bailey Studio Theatre.
Roger was part of a community design committee in the early stages of the Port Theatre project and also advised on the design of Malaspina Theatre at VIU. He won the Community Awards-Arts Leader of the Year in 1996 and the City’s Honour In Culture Award in 2001.
Never missing an opportunity to laugh, Roger always had a joke ready or an amusing story to tell. He was a kind and somewhat strict teacher but often used his dry sense of humour to temper his lessons (so we’ve heard from his former students).
He also had a great thirst for knowledge and read voraciously. He loved to try new things in all his areas of interest: music, food, arts, carpentry, science, and he encouraged others to do the same. Roger is missed greatly by his family: his wife of 68 years Barbara, his children Mark, Lisa, Ross, Brent(Cheryl) & Mila Skeeles (Brad). He also leaves behind 9 grandchildren: Jason(Alysha Rattay), Logan Campbell, Dylan, Isaac (Sarah), Jacob Skeeles, Paul, Madelyn (Keith Lazell), Rachel Dzbik (Adam) & Jazmine, and 5 great-grandchildren: Alex, Mya, Lily-Anne, Emmet & Thomas.
There will be a Celebration Of Life on Saturday, Nov. 6th from 2:00 to 4:00pm at The Bailey Studio, 2373 Rosstown Road, Nanaimo. Vaccine passports and masks mandatory. Donations gratefully accepted towards a Vancouver Island University bursary in Roger’s name in lieu of flowers.

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