A month or so ago I was inducted into my hometown’s Walk of Fame. There were 200 or so people there including my wife, sister and brother-in-law not to mention childhood friends, hockey teammates, coaches and managers and lifelong acquaintances. I was honoured and it humbled me as it should. As I reflected back on the event, throughout my career I have been blessed through receiving the CCAE Lifetime Achievement Award, the Queen’s University Distinguished Service Award, an Ontario Championship in hockey and if you really stretch it, being selected as valedictorian of my high school. All in all, I have been honoured – far beyond that which I have any right to expect.
In my induction ceremony in the Walk of Fame I had the brief opportunity to reflect back on my time growing up in the Town of Milton, Ontario. I took the opportunity in the two minutes or so I spoke to reflect back on my first two decades and their impact and irreparable imprint on the balance. Rather than extol my career and the things I had been fortunate to accomplish, I talked about the events that had the biggest impact throughout my life and the lifelong lessons learned in that small Ontario town. Sucker fishing on the 16 Mile Creek, the mayor literally and publicly reading the Riot Act on Halloween night, repeatedly and mindlessly driving up and down the Main Street, the fire at the one of the two watering holes in town, playing shinny on the town ponds, walking the railway tracks to school and the 100 year old stone school where I started my education. All were recounted in earnest and with pride. The fact that I am still able to recall them tells you their impact on me.
In the ensuing 45 years or so as I reflect on it, I have had the distinct and fortunate opportunity to work with some remarkable and notable individuals. The Principal of Queen’s University came from Orangeville, Ontario; the Dean of Engineering at Yale University and the former Science Advisor to the President of the United States came from that burgeoning metropolis of Westmeath, Ontario, the Chair of the Board of the Bank of Nova Scotia comes from Quebec City, Quebec, a former highly talented accountant and Executive Assistant of mine came from Swastika, Ontario of all places, a protégé from Fonthill, Ontario and my boss when I was building dams who was also the President of the Saskatchewan Power Corporation and he came from Star City, Saskatchewan. All in all, they came from some of the more obscure places in the country.
They were like me. They had grown up and been raised in the full kaleidoscope of society with all its strengths and weaknesses. They knew that human nature was a diverse thing. You can learn this reality growing up in a big city but the odds are greater that the person came, like me, from a smaller town. They knew that the most meaningful lessons were in how not to do something, who not to trust, what not to do. They also knew what to do, how to do it and whom to trust.
As much as remembering what job they had at any point in time, I remember where they are from, what they taught me and what I learned from them. The most meaningful lessons they were able to teach me were the ones that were fundamentally grounded in their own background. It always struck me that the most irreparable lessons these individuals were able to pass on were ones they had learned from their own experiences and in many if not most instances, these were from their own background.
Here is but one of many examples. We were involved in planning and building dams in Saskatchewan. To do everything we wanted to do, we were going to need hundreds of quarter sections of land. We needed a land policy which would give us the authority to do this. We also needed to avoid being trapped by the interminable litigation by farmers and land owners and this came from George Hill, our President as well as being a practicing lawyer from the area. We would pay up to 2 ½ times what the current market value of the land would bring! We were told that we were crazy and that this was way too much for what we were getting and that it would cost us far too much. It ended up being a brilliant solution as we avoided all the pitfalls and delays let alone the associated attendant delays. We encountered only 1 lawsuit from the dozens of owners with which we had to deal. Given Hill’s high public profile and political nature, he kept a low profile and let others administer the thing even though it was his brilliant idea.
The more people of similar attitudes we could get on board, the more we could accomplish. I found that lessons such as these were invaluable lifelong learnings that would resurrect them-selves again and again throughout my work career. It is still one of the main lessons I have learned. I learned that I was just an ordinary guy and that involving others was one of the biggest lessons I could learn. I have recalled on a regular basis that one of the biggest lessons I had ever learned was to Remember Who You Are and Where You Came From. Still true as much now as ever.