MONTREAL — To his friends he was an avid traveller and an ideal ambassador for Canada, to his students the man known simply as “Mr Jeff” was a passionate role model.
Those who knew Jean Francois Pelland spent the weekend expressing their shock and sadness after the 34-year-old died of gunshot wounds in an Egyptian hospital.
“He will be greatly missed by everyone here,” his co-workers at Cairo’s British Columbia Canadian International School said in a statement issued Sunday.
“During his short time here, he had a significant impact on all of us.”
Pelland, a teacher who became vice-principal of the school this August, died on Friday, two days after men fired on his car thinking it was carrying members of a rival tribe.
His employer said the “naturally friendly” Montrealer was touring southern Egypt in a taxi with a friend when shots were fired after their driver refused to stop for an illegal road block in the Sohag area, near Luxor.
After surgery to remove his spleen and repair his intestinal tract at a hospital in Luxor, Pelland died due to complications from his injuries.
“His love for children, his enthusiasm, his energy and his willingness to do what needed to be done to ensure that every student could be successful was just part of what the students and teachers enjoyed and will miss,” the school said.
Pelland’s death highlighted the family feuds and revenge attacks which are common in southern Egypt, where many families take the law into their own hands and refuse police intervention.
Warren Burrell, who worked with Pelland when the two were teaching at a school in Malaysia a few years ago, said his friend’s death seemed to be a case of being in the “wrong place, wrong time.”
“Maybe a misunderstanding of the trouble zone they were entering into,” he said in a phone interview.
“It’s just a shock because he just loved life.”
Burrell described Pelland as an enthusiastic teacher and someone with a passion for life.
“His dream was to be a principal of a school,” he said.
In a biography posted on the school’s website Pelland wrote that he had travelled to more than 35 countries and had taught in Asia, the Caribbean, the U.S. and Canada, but it was his first time in Africa.
“I am not going to leave Egypt until I finish touring Africa,” Pelland had written. “I might be here for a while.”
Burrell said the situation which lead to Pelland’s death — touring a part of southern Egypt — was exactly the kind of the thing the Montrealer did with his spare time.
“He never sat still for a minute,” Burrell said. “He loved life, he just wanted to see the world and make it a better place. The students all loved him.”
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department said it was aware of media reports concerning a Canadian citizen in Egypt and that consular staff were working on the matter, “offering assistance as appropriate.”
Pelland’s school said the Canadian Embassy sent a representative to the Luxor hospital “in a timely manner to assist during this difficult time.”
Some of Pelland’s students took to the Internet to express their dismay and remorse over the news of his death.
One blogger remembered Pelland as a passionate teacher who wore his ice hockey gear to host Talent Nights.
“He was fun, daring, adventurous,” wrote the student. “He has taught us to be fearless and remain passionate. May he rest in peace.”