Governor General David Johnston Wows Them in the Hammer!

I can’t end the week without a few reflections on our historic visit by Governor General David Johnston to Hamilton, hosted by HCF on Wednesday. The day started in the McQuesten neighbourhood where I had the privilege of welcoming His Excellency along with neighbourhood leader Pat Reid. A greeting party of pre-school kids had prepared a poster and scrapbook and they lined up eagerly to meet the GG outside the community centre. After warmly greeting Pat and I, the Governor General proceeded to get down on a knee and shake hands with every child while asking them about every page in their scrapbook. We then took a picture of all the children and the GG standing proudly in front of their large poster festooned with Canadian flags. It was a memorable moment that actually brought a tear to my eye. As the GG headed into our community roundtable meeting, he left the kids with “see ya later, alligator”. We were all captivated and the kids were obviously amazed.

Our McQuesten roundtable was closed to the media to encourage a frank and comfortable dialogue in which neighbourhood leaders could tell the GG about their hopes, dreams, accomplishments and challenges of trying to improve life in the inner city. It was a fascinating, multi-lingual discussion expertly facilitated by community development worker and neighbourhood champion David Derbyshire. The GG was curious, thoughtful, funny and gracious, and the residents were charmed and moved by his genuine interest and affection. The 90-minute dialogue ended with a group picture that is guaranteed to be an important keepsake for all those residents who were lucky enough to meet David Johnston.

I then had the good fortune to be able to accompany the GG in his motorcade through the city. Again, he was well briefed, interested and very self-deprecating. I got to play tour guide as we travelled along Burlington Street and talked about the challenges facing the manufacturing sector and steelmaking in particular. The GG and I then compared notes on our experiences working summers as students in the steel mills, he at Algoma and me at #2 Rod Mill at Stelco.

We continued south on Wentworth Street and I told him about the wonderful work that Don MacVicar and Larry Paikin had done to build hope and opportunity at the Eva Rothwell community centre, including the new Habitat for Humanity Homes and Ron Foxcroft’s gift of Raptor Basketball hoops for the gym.

We travelled west on Wilson Street and I told the GG the story of the wonderful City/School Board/HCF partnership that facilitated the building of the Beasley Community Centre and Dr. Davey School. He was moved by the story of the anonymous $1M gift to HCF to support programming in that challenged neighbourhood, and we talked about the importance of “quiet” philanthropy.

We turned north on James Street and I told the GG about the transformation of James North led by our vibrant arts community, including last week’s remarkable art crawl. As we arrived at LIUNA Station, His Excellency talked about the station’s history. I told him about Joe Mancinelli’s passion for Hamilton and architecture and about LIUNA’s great leadership in rebuilding both the station and the Lister Block.

Upon arrival, the GG was greeted warmly by Mayor Bratina, MP David Sweet and he warmly hugged his old friend, Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling, before entering the station and shaking hands with many of the guests on hand.

At our private lunch for community volunteers, the GG spoke briefly but passionately about volunteerism and the positive work that he had witnessed at McQuesten in the morning. He then surprised us by neglecting his lunch and proceeding to visit tables to introduce himself and have pictures taken with nearly everybody in the room. His Excellency’s warmth and approachability clearly touched everyone that he met.

The program moved promptly into the large ballroom, where a standing room only crowd of about 750 waited eagerly for the GG to enter the room. As the M.C., I asked the room to stand for the Governor General’s arrival and they burst into applause as he took his seat. As the Hamilton Children’s Choir sang the national anthem, I found myself moved by the wonderful moment that was happening.

The remainder of the day was a blur. David Johnston delivered a tour de force speech calling on all Canadians to do more to build a smart and caring nation, and he saluted Hamilton and HCF for the great work we are doing to builder stronger neighbourhoods and families. To witness the GG’s magic directly, you can check out the speech here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM4tOvp2rOY

HCF Board Chair Dr. Gary Warner (Order of Canada)  then thanked the GG following his speech with thoughtful and wise words.

Before leaving, the Governor General took the time to meet and have pictures taken with literally hundreds of guests who were universally impressed by his wit and wisdom.

As I shook the Governor General’s hand and said goodbye as he got into the car at the end of the day, it occurred to me that I had been so lucky to have spent time with a truly remarkable Canadian. We are fortunate as a nation for Governor General David Johnston’s life and his service to Canada. We at the Hamilton Community Foundation are profoundly grateful to have been able to facilitate such a memorable event in the life and history of Hamilton.


Lessons from Hamilton: Big Thinking on Small Grants

Grassroots Grantmakers is a network of North American funders who, like Hamilton Community Foundation, help people who want to make their neighbourhood a better place to live. This week its leader, Janis Foster, led off the new year with a tribute to our work in the hubs.

It provides some interesting perspectives about our community development and small grants program. It’s great to see this approach validated, and interesting to note her acknowledgement of the patience, courage and trust required for success. We always knew this was hard, complex work that required long-term commitment. Janis’ blog is an endorsement and a thank you to the many who have believed in and supported this work for a decade. Read on.


My day at Rideau Hall

Anyone who knows me knows that  public speaking is not my forte. For me, it ranks right along side root canal – without an anesthetic.  So, it was not without trepidation that I agreed to present today at Rideau Hall, in front of His Excellency
the Right Honourable David Johnston.  I was especially nervous because, among his many other credentials, our Governor General is one of the most engaging and inspiring speakers I have heard.

I was invited to Rideau Hall along with some 20+ other representatives from community foundations across the country, to consider how we can help His Excellency fulfill the vision of a smart and caring nation, leading up to Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.  In essence, it is a call to service to Canadians to become engaged in volunteerism and philanthropy.  The Governor General’s vision is that “smart and caring” will become synonymous with who we are as a nation, as he says “like hockey and health care”.  Given community foundations’ own focus on philanthropy and citizen engagement, as well as our national network,  it’s a perfect partnership, and I am one of  many who are extremely proud that our movement has been chosen to assist.

And, given the warmth and graciousness both of His Excellency and his whole team, along with their genuine enthusiasm about community foundations and our role in building social capital, making my  presentation today was both an honour and a pleasure.  I can’t wait to talk about it more.


What do Indy and Hamilton have in common? Turns out-a lot!

If you can find an hour in your busy lives this Superbowl weekend, this documentary http://www.urbanophile.com/2012/02/02/from-naptown-to-super-city/ is definitely worth watching on the transformation of downtown Indy over the past 40 years. A Downtown focus, waterfront stadium, velodrome, pursuing a major league franchise, amalgamation…some very interesting similarities to recent debates/controversies in Hamilton. I found the stuff on the importance of and debate around the role of charitable foundations (particularly the Lilly Foundation) especially interesting. Enjoy!


The Promise of Public Education in Hamilton

It always amazes me that some of our most important public events often draw the fewest citizen spectators. Tonight I had the opportunity to observe the inaugural 2011/12 meeting of the Hamilton Wentworth District Public School Board. In addition to trustees, staff and media there may generously have been a handful of citizens to witness the election of Tim Simmons as the new Chair and Robert Barlow as Vice Chair (with thanks to Judith Bishop for her exemplary service as past Chair). The remarks of Chair Simmons and Director John Malloy were both blunt and inspired, calling on trustees to make bold decisions about the future of our public schools with a focus on students, innovation and equity. The decisions about school closings (and the opportunity for new construction) that will be taken in the year ahead will be profoundly challenging, but present an historic opportunity to reshape education for the better in Hamilton. As a community, we need to find ways to support and celebrate the courage to make the right choices for our children. I left the Education Centre this evening with a sense of hopefulness about the journey ahead.


Philanthropic Leadership

Today I will be attending the annual Philanthropy Awards Luncheon.  Hosted by our local Association of Fundraising Professionals to celebrate National Philanthropy Week, the awards recognize the outstanding contribution of  individuals, groups and corporations within the Hamilton-Niagara-Halton region.

This year the corporation being honoured is Pioneer Energy LP.  Since opening its first gas station in Hamilton in 1956 under the leadership of Murray Hogarth, Pioneer  Energy has built a thriving national business. Pioneer recognizes that their business success is intrinsically linked to the health of the communities they call home which is why they are dedicated to giving back in multiple ways.  One important vehicle for their philanthropy has been the funds they established at Hamilton Community Foundation.

It has been our priviledge at HCF to work with the Hogarth family and other members of Pioneer Energy’s leadership team.  Their impact in the community has been profound and their personal and corporate commitment inspirational.


Pittsburgh-The Promise and the Lessons

HCF management team driving home today after three whirlwind days of learning in Pittsburgh. The hilights were almost too numerous but a few deserve a reference. Dinner with my friend former Mayor Tom Murphy included a lively discussion about the audacity of the civic leadership with no money in the kitty purchasing 1500 acres of abandoned riverfront abandoned steel mills and the incredible political courage to float a billion dollar bond to build 3 stadiums and waterfront parkland. Meeting the extraordinary Bill Strickland and touring the amazing Bidwell Training academy and dreaming about Hamilton doing something similar for our most challenged kids. And last but not least meeting the founders of  the Pittsburgh Promise including Mark Roosevelt (Teddy’s great grandson) who have created a scholarship fund for every Pittsburgh public school graduate. Thanks to our great Hamilton group for coming because they believe, including our Board Chair Gary Warner, the Mohawk College group led by Rob MacIsaac, the City group under Joe-Anne Priel and Marc Ayotte from Hillfield. Lots of great lessons for Hamilton and work to do together upon our return.


Why School Nutrition Matters

A must read from your weekend Globe and Mail. Reinforcing the importance HCF’s work in this area.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/search/?q=brown+bag


A Letter to My Coach, Wayne Hager

Dear Coach (Wayne),

I am so sorry that I am away on business in Ottawa and unable to attend your induction ceremony to the Westdale Sports Hall of Fame.

Allow me to add my voice to the many former staff, students and athletes who will be on hand to celebrate your remarkable contributions to our school and community over so many years.  In retrospect, I was so fortunate to have had you as my coach during an important time of transition to adulthood in my life.  You were always kind, patient and respectful of kids from every walk of life.  But most importantly, you demanded the best in each of us and in so doing instilled a resilience to adversity that has served me well over the course of my life and career.

Quite simply, Coach, you were a profound difference maker for many of us, and for that we will be forever grateful.

Warmly,

Terry Cooke

PS:

The writing of this letter was in no way influenced by your Hamilton Spectator interview of some years ago in which you confirmed that I was the best point guard that you ever coached at Westdale!  (With apologies to Herwig Baldauf, Billy Prior, Danny Casuccio, D.I. Milligan and numerous others that I may have forgotten…)


Remembering Dominic Agostino-And Don’t Forget to Vote

As a charitable sector CEO, I am appropriately restricted from participating in any partisan political activity. But as a longtime political junkie and former Regional Chairman, I remain vitally interested in the the process and deeply concerned about our democratic deficits that go way beyond the ballot box. On the eve of tomorrow’s Provincial Election in Ontario, I wanted to share this Spec Column that I penned some time ago, remembering my friend and former Hamilton East M. P.P., the late Dominic Agostino. Dom always ensured that local elections were fun.  They aren’t quite the same without him. And please don’t forget to vote.

“It is said that God gave us memory
so we could have roses in winter.”

– George Will

I am sentimental by nature. With three children under
five, I get to witness the pure joy of Christmas through young eyes. But it’s
also a time of year to reminisce about those we’ve lost.

The period between Christmas and New Year’s triggers
in me memories of Dominic Agostino. Every year at this time, he would organize
what we referred to as Dominic’s Excellent Adventure. It was an annual night
out in Toronto. The guest list included five or six elected officials of all
stripes. The only qualification, Dominic insisted upon was a willingness to
endure some gentle teasing.

The evening started at Dominic’s apartment just off
Bay Street in the financial district. Martinis were served before a cab ride to
a local theatre. Dominic always chose a movie with a political theme to ensure
we were prepped for the discussion to follow.

After the film, the party proceeded to the Keg
Mansion. The objectives were simple: to consume lots of good food and red wine
and then to tell political tales long into the night. Sadly, it’s a tradition
that ended with Dominic’s untimely passing almost three years ago at the age of
44.

Cynics have said that if you want a friend in
politics, buy a dog. But Dominic rejected that notion completely. He collected
friends almost as assiduously as election victories.

I first met Dominic in high school. He played football
at Cathedral at the same time I was playing basketball at Westdale. By
coincidence, we both started our careers as social workers with the March of
Dimes. Working from the same small office on Woodward Avenue, we shared a
passion for politics and sports and became good friends.

A friendship with Dominic came with an added bonus:
the love and great cooking of his mom, Teresa.

You quickly realized that for the Agostinos, loyalty
to family and friends was compulsory. They insisted on providing help and
hospitality even when you didn’t need it.

Despite Dominic’s unfortunate attachment to the
Liberal party, I campaigned for him in each of his elections. That loyalty was
returned in spades, although when campaigning with me he sometimes muttered
about my Tory leanings. For Dominic, partisanship never came before friendship.

First elected to Hamilton’s Catholic school board at
age 21, Dominic remained an elected official for the rest of his life. He
climbed the political ladder from the school board to city council and then to
Queen’s Park. He surely would have made it to Ottawa had his career not been
cut short.

Dominic’s approach to politics was unique. He said it
was show business for ugly people and admitted he’d never met a microphone he
didn’t like.

He was a master at turning trivia into front-page
news, but you always knew that you were in on the joke and that on important
issues, Dominic would not disappoint.

Incapable of malice, Dominic was frequently subjected
to political ridicule and cruel whispers about his personal life. He invariably
responded with quiet dignity and a disarming smile.

Dominic’s relatively short life taught us many
lessons, not the least of which is the importance of civility in life generally
and in politics particularly.

He had the ability to disagree without ever being
disagreeable. This and his innate generosity allowed Dominic to make and keep
many friends from across the spectrum, both in and out of politics.

On New Year’s Eve, I toasted the memory of Dominic
Agostino. His was a life well lived.