After nearly two decades guiding children safely across two of South Surrey’s busiest roads, Eric Saide has tipped his hat to drivers for the last time.
The longtime crossing guard retired officially from his post on 24 Avenue – where he’s most recently been watching over students walking to and from Pacific Heights Elementary – last week.
Students, staff and parents honoured Saide during a morning assembly Monday, with flowers and plenty of thanks.
“He has been our crossing guard since the opening of the school,” principal Jennifer Jock told the crowd. “Before that, Mr. Saide could be seen on 176 Street (at 20 Avenue, the former home of Grandview Elementary)… and he’d always wave at all the cars that went by.
“We are all going to miss that wave and your friendly smile and the tip of your hat.”
Saide, who turned 85 on Dec. 5, started his crossing-guard career in 1998, and quickly developed his friendly strategy for getting drivers’ attention.
“My way of doing it was to start waving at people,” he said, demonstrating his trademark, two-finger signal. “Never the hand open, always the ‘V’ sign… At the beginning, only maybe 50 per cent would wave back.”
Over the years – eight watching over Grandview Elementary and the balance focused on Pacific Heights – he became a staple on the thoroughfares, and his smiles and waves were more often than not returned.
He remembers just two close calls over the years. In one, a driver, instead of stopping for Saide as he led students across the road, actually went around them just as they hit the midway point.
“I always kept the kids back (behind me),” Saide said.
In a video played Monday at the school, students spoke of Saide’s friendly smile and teachers described him as “all the students’ favourite person.”
Married for 45 years to wife Carol, Saide, who joined the ranks of the Commonwealth Frontiersmen in 1976, said he volunteered as a crossing guard because he’s not the type of person to sit around. In short, he enjoyed “the whole setup” of the role, he said.
“It gave you something to do, you made a lot of friends… and you see the kids grow up. That is one of the advantages – see the next generation grow up, coming to school.”
Born in Looma, Alta., Saide worked for years in Africa, South America and the Caribbean before returning to Canada to work as an aircraft mechanic.
His 50-year career in the aviation industry took him around the world, and provided opportunities few others get, he said.
“I dined with Prince Philip’s mom and dad,” he told Peace Arch News, also naming sharing a drink with future Ugandan president Idi Amin as among highlights.
Saide said Amin, infamous now for his crimes against humanity in the ’70s, “was an excellent man” at the time they met years earlier.
“I’d like to ask him, what made him change?” Saide said.
Looking back at his crossing-guard posts, Saide described the Grandview Elementary site as “just one mess of traffic,” and 24 Avenue as “like a freeway.” During the morning and afternoon rush, as many as 800 vehicles would pass by in an hour.
Now, with his stop sign resting amongst other mementos in a room at his South Surrey home, Saide said he’s ready for whatever comes next.
“Everything’s a stage. That’s the past… I led a life that very few people are able to live, and enjoyed it. Most people only dream about it. I did something about it.”