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 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.

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.


Terry Cooke


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

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.

Art as the New Steel

Is art the “new steel”, as the saying goes?

In Hamilton, many people argue that the arts will be a primary driver of economic growth in coming years as the city economy shifts away from heavy manufacturing to creative and knowledge industries. With the rapid growth and popularity of arts festivals like last weekend’s Supercrawl on James North, it’s clear that the arts are making a real impact.

In fact, the upcoming Vital Signs 2011 Report notes that 44 percent of Hamiltonians attended a cultural event in 2010, higher than the 39 percent average in other Vital Signs communities.

At the same time, we would be wise not to discount our manufacturing heritage just yet. According to employment data we will be publishing in upcoming upcoming Vital Signs report, employment in the goods-producing sector, which includes manufacturing and construction,  has grown by 5.5 percent in the past three years. In contrast, employment in the service sector grew by 3.9%.

One of the more promising areas is the intersection of knowledge and manufacturing. It’s easy to assume we should jump on the “web startup” bandwagon, but Hamilton has a unique ability to leverage our existing industrial manufacturing capacity into innovative new businesses that make things.

With easy access to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Hamilton could become an economic bright light that grows new businesses from the ground up and produces jobs that pay well enough to keep their employees out of the unfortunate ranks of the working poor.

Who knows: one of the 800 startups expected to launch by the end of this year could grow into a major employer. Initiatives like the Lion’s Lair , started by the Chamber of Commerce and Innovation Factory, can help foster the entrepreneurial culture that is necessary to grow lots of new businesses.

In fact, we are so optimistic about the role of investing in building stronger communities that Hamilton Community Foundation has launched a community investing initiative to leverage our capital more directly and proactively.

Welcome To Friendly Manitoba-Return of The Jets

So I arrived in Winnipeg last night and as chance would have it the Jets were playing their first NHL game since the tragic departure in 1996. As a sports junkie I figured I had to take a shot even though the game was sold out and I had no ticket. I arrived at the start of the second period and the ticket wicket was closed and scalpers had gone home. Standing pathetically at the front gate I explained my situation to a kind ticket taker. Taking pity on me she got me a free ticket in Row#6 from a “friendly Manitoban”. I  then had a guy sitting next to me who was intrigued by my story buy me a beer and a hotdog. The last two periods produce a raucous 6-1 win for the Jets and the crowd sounded like they had just won a Stanley Cup. What a great city! Hope to do the same thing soon in the Hammer….