The heart of the Gaels

The Journal spoke with Sue Bates, QUAA president, about traditions, family history, and her unparalleled love for Queen’s athletics

Sue Bates graduated from Queen’s in 1991.
Sue Bates graduated from Queen’s in 1991.
Credit: 
Supplied by Michael Onesi

There’s a fall tradition Sue Bates has.  

When the Gaels football team plays their weekly game, she wakes up with an excitement that’s almost tangible. 

“The first thing I do,” Bates told The Journal, outlining her Saturday morning routine, “is get fully decked out in my tricolour.”

She likes to get to Richardson Stadium, where she’s a gold season ticket holder, “a little bit early to watch the players warmup.” She feels connected to the players on a “personal and individual level,” and by kickoff she’s in full gear — cheering rumbustiously with her school spirit on full display. To top off the afternoon, she heads to the nearby Queen’s Inn post-game with her family to grab a bite to eat.

“We have a definite sort of game day prep … and even if I’m watching from home, full confession, I still get decked out in my tricolour,” she joked.

Bates — who is currently in her first year as president of the school’s alumni association — is somewhat of a Gaels super-fan. “I’ll never be out-tricoloured,” she said. Though football and rugby tend to favour her interests, she “loves all [her] Gaels — that’s just the bottom line.”

Close friends often sarcastically pepper her with questions. They wonder why she remains such an ardent supporter of Queen’s and its athletic programs years after she’d graduated. “[They] ask me, you know, ‘What are you doing?’ But … I just think a lot of people don’t understand.” 

For Bates, there’s a culture at Queen’s and in Kingston that sucks you in to love the school. But her particularlyunique relationship with Queen’s dates back decades, to before she was even born.

***

Queen’s is all Bates ever really knew.

Her parents, Ron and Katherine, graduated from Queen’s in 1960 and met during their second year; her brother, John, graduated class of ’84 and Sue herself graduated in ’91. 

She was born into a Queen’s family — raised in Kingston and among Gael folklore. 

“My mother’s blood ran tricolour,” Bates jokingly told The Journal.

In the quaint boardroom of her office on King Street, she recalled her parents’ affinity for Queen’s as well as how palpable and infectious their passion was for the school.

“There was no other university on the planet,” she remembered her parents thinking. “So, ‘You can go to any university as long as it’s Queen’s,’ was the environment I grew up in.”

It was always like that for the Bates family. 

Though Bates’ mother, Katherine, had no intention of going to Queen’s, she attended a campus lunch and visit hosted by the University in 1956.

“At the time, my mother was a top scholar in Ontario, living in Thunder Bay,” she said, adding that the university’s late Chaplain, Padre Laverty, was attempting to recruit Ontario-based students to Queen’s. While his pitch about the University’s values and academic reputation didn't win her over, Laverty’s decision to use a film projector did — “it’s where it all started.” 

“[Laverty] brought a film reel of the football team,” Bates said, “and that was it. [My mother] said, ‘that’s for me — I’m going.’” 

Queen’s appeared to balance community and education seamlessly and that was appealing for Bates’ mother. The kinship on campus resembled the feel of a small town more than that of an academic institution. 

Bates’ father, Ron, was born in Kingston and was aware of the football program’s significance to the city. Her mother, however, wasn’t — and the rush one got from rallying behind the city’s hometown team was intoxicating. 

“She was a huge Gaels fan all through her undergrad,” Bates said of her mother, adding that when they couldn’t make it games during her youth, they would both tune in through the Queen’s campus radio station, CFRC. 

“If I look like a big Gaels fan, my mom was even bigger. She never missed a [football] game.”

*** 

Upon graduating, Bates — having lived in Kingston her whole life — wanted a change of pace. 

“I’d been born and raised here, went to Queen’s, and I thought, ‘You know what? I just want to break out and do something different.’ So I sold everything I owned, bought a one-way ticket [to Scotland], and just left,” she said. 

While abroad, Bates worked odd jobs, serving as an under butler in a castle and working in a whiskey distillery. But no matter where she was, she always managed to keep up with the Gaels. 

“It was difficult then,” she explained. “It was before the internet, so it was challenging to keep up, but I [managed] through the Alumni Review.”

Bates’ mother would keep her up to date with domestic news — things one wouldn’t find in the quarter-annual Review. But she kept a keen eye on Queen’s athletics and saw the Gaels live in action in the early 1990s.

“When I lived in Scotland, the men’s rugby team did a tour,” she said, “and so I went to see them play.”

After 14 years across the pond — Bates spent seven years in Scotland, where she met her husband; three in the Bahamas and four in Turks and Caicos — she returned to Kingston in 2005 with the same passion for Queen’s and its athletic teams that she had during her youth. 

Even though rugby and football have taken precedence as her favorite sports, Bates has made a concerted effort to watch as many Gaels games as she can — regardless of sport. 

Similar to her mother’s consistent support of the university, the tight-knit environment that envelops Queen’s and its athletic programs has kept her engaged. 

“I really believe in the [Athletics] program, and I really enjoy cheering these young athletes on. I love watching their success here at Queen’s,” she said, “and quite often there’s an opportunity to follow them into a more professional [capacity].” 

An avid Saskatchewan Roughriders fan, Bates joked, “I always say I love the CFL, the [Rough]riders … and any Gael playing.” 

*** 

This homecoming will be Bates’ 26th anniversary — and she’ll be, without question, donning some form of tricolour at Richardson Stadium when the Gaels take the field at 1 p.m. She’ll get there early to watch the players warmup and she’ll rally behind the team at every snap. After the game she might slip into the Queen’s Inn for a bite to eat. 

Whatever she does, she’ll know it feels right. 

“The best decision I ever made was to go to Queen’s.”

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