Goodbye Don


Sometimes you are fortunate to meet someone with whom you connect and if you are very, very lucky, you end up creating one of those deeply close friendships. Such is the case for me with Don Seymour. Many of you know Don from his work as the C.E.O. of The Canadian Mental Health Association here in London but I know him in a different way.

Don came to London almost five years ago to take the reins as the new Executive Director of WOTCH, Community Mental Health Services. I met Don through an event held by Pillar about social enterprise and we quickly fell into a challenging conversation about social enterprise, mental health, and his experiences in London. Right at the outset I got that gut feeling that here was someone I could talk to and who was interested in a greater community life.

From there we met for coffee and soon we were friends who hang out regularly and we deepened our friendship. What I appreciated about Don at the time and still do now is his very visceral passion for the most vulnerable among us. The work he has done with this population came from a strong desire to work through community to help make our community more inclusive and caring. This is not an everyday trait in my experience.

Don also has this quirky sense of humour that I share in the extreme and we riff off one another because nothing ties the bonds of friendship like a good laugh. We also share a background in theatre and we both play guitar – kind of. So this then led to where we are as friends today. He’s leaving London.

Don, as many of you know, will be moving to Kingston to work his magic with another organization in mental health and addiction as he has done so brilliantly with the amalgamation of CMHA. He’ll be amazing I am sure, but I can’t deny that when he’s gone there will be a hole in our city, and for me personally. Don has not been afraid to be public in enumerating the challenges around mental health and homelessness, mental health and addictions, and in being a champion for My Sisters’ Place. We need more of this kind of public engagement in our forested city and more of the kind of leadership Don has shown.

I will miss my very good friend. I will miss our long discussions on how best to create smoked delicacies – his ribs are better than any you’ll find at rib fest, I’ll miss our sharing of troubles, our commiseration when we were dealing with difficulties at work, and our shared sense of something better that may be just around the corner. I know he’s just a call, DM, or Skype chat away but not having easy access to my pal Don will be hard for me.

Even so, the kind of friendship we have developed will stand the test of time and distance. I’m fortunate as I write this to have a very dear old friend visiting with for a few days, and as old friends do, we quickly fell back into the rhythms we had when we lived blocks, rather than hundreds of kilometres, from each other. This will be true of my dear friend Don Seymour as well.

So goodbye Don. I’ll miss you very much. I am grateful to you for the generosity of your friendship, the enormous heart you bring to making our world that much better for those that need it most, and most of all I am grateful that our friendship will remain and grow. Kingston is very lucky to be getting you and you will be missed here in London.

O Canada

Canada post

I want to wave our flag today. I want to sing O Canada. I want to sit in a back yard BBQ and I want to see the flag fly over Parliament. I want to shake my head in disappointment and shout my frustration. I want to say thank you! and to urge us to do better. I want all of these things and more for such is the complicated country in which we live. Such is Canada.

In our country you don’t have to worry about going into debt to pay for a needed medical procedure and we try to help those who are most vulnerable. In our country you have the right to criticize without fear of reprisal and if you have a dream and work hard you have the potential of seeing it realized. In our country, our O Canada, we are blessed by abundance and possibility.

But in our country we have skeletons in the closet and have left many behind. In an online newspaper I see examples of this. The failure of the Senate to pass a bill protecting the rights of the Transgendered and another that tells the tale of how money was withheld from those with low incomes. We also have the failure of parliament to take the steps to investigate the missing aboriginal women who are as important to Canada as are the homeless and working poor and the mentally ill. And while all this is happening, the abundance of our land is under threat by our drive to compete in a furiously fast global economy.

Yet I can’t help it, I still love singing our national anthem. I see acts of kindness all year long and see good people building a better tomorrow for their children and neighbours. While I am celebrating today with my family there are those who are missing someone they lost. And while I am singing O Canada someone else is trying to find some place safe to lay their head for the night. And all of this happens in the space it takes us to reach the last words of I stand on guard for thee.

That’s the point though. Canada is a celebration of how great we are and can be, and at the same time shines light on the problems we haven’t come to grips with. So as you sing O Canada today or tonight, as you watch fireworks erupt and put your arms around your family and neighbours, take a second and see it all. See all of our true north strong and free and recommit yourself to the power of its ideals, the potential of its future, and the problems we still need to tackle.

O Canada!