Monsignor Fee Otterson was a playful soul who once showed up to a family barbecue in a horrendous wig, once officiated an Easter service in bunny ears.
He would lead drama classes in gibberish to challenge the communication skills of students. He walked school hallways wearing the red-and-white striped hat of Cat in the Hat or an old-fashioned judge’s white wig. And he was known to friends as “the Needle,” launching off-the-wall one-liners at parties with a conspiratorial wink, then leaning back to watch the ensuing fireworks.
Otterson died peacefully on Sept. 9 at the age of 89. He spent 65 years in the priesthood and 34 years as a teacher of drama, religion, Latin and English at St. Joseph, St. Mary and Austin O’Brien high schools in Edmonton. He was surrounded by close friends and family, including nephew D’Arcy Ross, with whom he shared a running joke: the same barber for their very thin, receding hairlines.
Even into his last year of life, Otterson was a regular fixture at the elementary and junior high school named in his honour. He visited classrooms to read to children, accepted hugs in the hallways and admired the numerous stuffed or carved otter mascots littering the rooms, collected by the students during family holidays.
Those otters represent the spirit of Otterson and the beloved priest’s playful, mischievous nature, said Marie Whelan, principal of Monsignor Fee Otterson school, which opened in southwest Edmonton in 2010 and is already bursting at the seams. Otterson even celebrated his last birthday at the school with the children.
“He connected with kids in a really human way,” said Whelan, whose own grown children had Otterson for a drama teacher at Austin O’Brien high, performing in musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof and Peter Pan. “He had that playful manner and wanted to bring joy.”
“It was the interactions with the kids and watching them grow, that was his thing,” said Ross. “He was an advocate for youth.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…