Faces in the Crowd – Outside The Lines

Posted on November 1, 2018 under Faces in the Crowd with no comments yet


“I’m a fun guy to be around. I try and make people feel happy.”

Meet Justin Gregg.

Justin grew up in small town Vermont, the only child of a father who was a lawyer and a mother who worked for the Chamber of Commerce. In a time when the internet had yet to take a foothold on society, he loved playing in the outdoors. His mother was an animal lover who helped the local humane society find placement for stray and abandoned creatures.

At the age of ten, he travelled to Massachusetts on a whale watching trip. He saw a humpback whale and was immediately captivated with marine life.

Justin grew up and was considered a nerd, when being a nerd wasn’t cool. He loved science fiction movies and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In high school he played a variety of sports and in grade twelve, got his first taste of acting participating in theatre. Upon completing high school, he travelled to Sweden as an exchange student and completed an additional year of studies. This was a transformative experience. He learned a new language and for the first time came to appreciate that people in other parts of the world think and act differently.

Even though the idea of studying marine biology had some appeal, Justin enrolled in a linguistics program at University of Vermont. “I didn’t particularly like science as a subject and thought the program would be too difficult.” At the end of his second year, he headed off to the Netherlands to study linguistics and the Dutch language. He met his future wife, Ranke while both of them were participating in the production of “Romeo and Juliet”.

In his fourth year, Justin and a dozen colleagues from an a capella group, travelled to New York in a limo to perform at an UVM alumni function at the Windows of the World restaurant atop the Twin Towers.

Ranke moved to Ireland after attaining her Masters degree to pursue a Ph.D. at Trinity College. Justin moved to Ireland to be with her but with no job prospects and proper work visas, he decided to become a student again taking a one year sound engineering and music technology course. In 1999, the couple married and Ranke took a year off to travel to the United States. It was around this time that Justin’s father became sick which led to a protracted illness. Years later his mother would develop ALS. “At a young age, I became conscious of suffering and end of life issues.”

Back in Ireland, Justin tried his hand at a number of jobs including voice over work. After attending a Celtic scholar’s conference in Wales with Ranke, he decided that he would pursue a Ph.D. He spent an entire year at the local library reading books on biology, zoology and genetics. He decided to do a program in Cognitive Psychology. When he pitched his idea to the people at Trinity College, he was told that he would need to find a field supervisor. He contacted Kathleen Dudzinski, a renowned dolphin communication researcher.

For four summers, one in the Bahamas and three on a volcanic island off the coast of Japan, Justin studied dolphin behaviour. He swam with them using an underwater camera to record behaviour and sounds. He completed his doctorate in 2008 and in 2013 published a signature book called “Are Dolphins Really Smart”? The book was somewhat controversial arousing a lot of criticism by the media. As a result of this, he started to publish his own articles and became a science writer.

The couple’s daughter was born in 2008 in the Netherlands where Ranke had gained employment. Justin became a stay at home dad. “My number one goal in life was to get married and become a father.” He became a stay at home dad, when being a stay at home dad wasn’t cool! “Even though The Netherlands was progressive, it was unusual to be a stay at home dad. I was not part of the mainstream mother group.”

Yearning for the rural life, Justin applied for a self -employment permit to Canada in 2013. “I wanted to live in the country, cut my own firewood and have my own bees.” B.C.  was first on their list but a cursory investigation determined that the west coast was a bit on the pricey side. Justin’s grandmother’s family had lived in the Annapolis Valley so they set their sights on Nova Scotia. At around this time, a position became available in the Celtic Studies department at ST.F.X. University which Ranke applied for and was accepted.

After a year of renting, they purchased a home in Pleasant Valley. The couple believe in self-sufficiency. They installed solar panels in their home, grow their own garlic, cut their own wood and make their own honey and maple syrup.

Justin is an adjunct professor in the Biology department at St.F.X. and is a senior research associate with the Dolphin Communication project. A prolific writer and author, he now has his own publishing company called “Outside the Lines Press.” He is active in community life and contributes his many talents when called upon. His sense of humour, inherited from his very witty mother, is on full display when he leads an improv session.

Antigonish is very fortunate to have such a talented individual who lives life “outside the lines.”

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