By LeRae Haynes
Williams Lake Secondary School valedictorian Sam Tudor was the recipient of the Rusty Helgason Arts Bursary at this year’s graduation ceremony—something Sam says was an honour that touched him deeply.
Rusty Helgason graduated in 2005 and was also valedictorian of his class. He lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident just over a year ago.
“I knew him in his final year of school—he had the lead in ‘Guys and Dolls,’” said WLSS drama teacher Sidonie Boll. “He was not your regular male romantic lead. The girl who played opposite him was Jackie Catalano, who was perfect in her role.
“She liked Rusty and they were friends, but she suited her role and he wasn’t ‘cliché’ in his. At one point, though, Jackie told me that she was ‘kind of falling in love with Rusty on stage.’ They were both doing such good acting, and he came into his character on stage.
“He was wonderful in that role,” she said. “When he sang, he tore up the stage.”
Two years after Rusty graduated, he was back on the WLSS stage. “When I did ‘The Boyfriend’ I had some trouble with my guy players leaving, and right near opening night I lost another one and was desperate. Rusty came in last minute and played a smaller character—he was just wonderful,” she said.
“He helped with everything---the sets and everything. Lead or not, he was humble and was there for everyone.”
The Rusty Helgason Bursary was one of three awards presented to Sam at graduation, but he said it was the most important to him. “Rusty sounds like the type of person I would have been close friends with—I know that he was a really cool, nice guy who loved theatre and was a ‘character’, so I’m told,” Sam explained.
(Screen capture from a YouTube video tribute to Rusty Helgason created by a family member.)
Sam shares a similar passion for the arts—music in particular. A singer, musician and songwriter, he has just released his second CD of original music, helped organize a group of graduates singing the national anthem and played piano for ‘Alice a Wonderland’ at WLSS, even writing one of the songs for the musical.
“Losing a friend this year, and being so close to a family that is going through the ordeal of such a loss, makes this award that much more valuable to me. I wrote his family a letter and sent them an album just so they know what I've been up to,” Sam said.
“It's cliche, but it does make me feel closer to the Helgason family, and it does feel more important to me that way.”
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