A Joint Meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society, Toronto Branch
CEO, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario
A Canadian Dream
Chairman: Dr. John S. Niles
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Edward Badovinac, KH, CET, OLJ, MMLJ, Director, The Empire Club of Canada, and Past Senior Vice-Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch; Rev. Canon Philip Bristow, Incumbent, St. Philips-On-the-Hill Anglican Church, Unionville; Noreen Clement, Dominion Vice-Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada and Past Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch; Dr. H. Ian Macdonald, OC, KLJ, B.Com, MA, BPhil, LLD, President Emeritus, York University, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada, and Board Member, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch; Catherine S. Swift, President and CEO, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and President-Elect, The Empire Club of Canada; Roberto Martella, Owner and Operator, Grano Restaurant; Arthur Downes, Vice-Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch; Gareth S. Seltzer, CEO, TWS Private Management Inc., and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Richard Rooney, CA, CFA, President, Burgundy Asset Management Ltd.; John Coyne, Vice-President, General Counsel, Unilever Canada; Peter K. Large, Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch, and Barrister and Solicitor; and Brigid Murphy, Senior Vice-President, The Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company.
Introduction by John Niles
Past Presidents, Rev. Sir, honoured guests, Directors, members and guests of the Empire Club of Canada:
There are two constants in the nonprofit world: change and the capacity to keep pace with it. These are fundamental issues facing the sector and its leadership today. As such, leaders in the non-profit world need to be inspired, self-motivated, positive, innovative and courageous. In this regard, Rocco Rossi has been an entrepreneur.
Not one to wait for others to make things happen, Rocco Rossi races ahead of the pack--literally.
As the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, he has been in the forefront of new initiatives that have raised not only funds but awareness of a deadly disease in unique and distinctive ways. A case in point was in July of 2005 when after completing a 480-km. kayak journey from Toronto to Ottawa he reached not only his destination, but his goal to raise $150,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for stroke recovery.
And in 2006, his kayak adventure called "Progress on Stroke" kicked off with a special announcement of a $5-million investment from the McGuinty government to the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for stroke recovery.
And then on the 20th anniversary of Ride for Heart which is the largest one-day cycling charity event in Canada. Rocco Rossi again took the lead and marked this milestone by cycling the length of Yonge Street, the longest street in the world, from Rainy River to Toronto, a distance of 1,900 km., over 19 days of his vacation time in May, and then capping off that ride by also participating in the Ride for Heart on June 3 in Toronto.
All of the proceeds he raised through that adventure went towards the Heart and Stroke Chase McEachern Tribute Fund, which aims to place automated external defibrillators in public spaces like hockey rinks and community recreation centres.
There is an old Jewish saying that states: "If you save a life you change the world." I tell you that saying because these very defibrillators that have already been placed in a number of facilities due to Rocco's great adventure have already saved four lives. He has changed the world.
Peter Drucker said, "Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things."
He must have had Rocco Rossi in mind when he thought of that. For he has been doing the right things and doing them right.
Please welcome with me Rocco Rossi.
Right in the middle of the word "life" is the word "if." And it is absolutely appropriate that "if" is at the heart of life because "if" is the word of dreams and potential. In the pantheon of two-letter words, "if" is a giant even when compared to "be" and "am" for while those two words express the necessary condition for life; namely, existence, it is only in asking and answering our "if" questions that we inject meaning into life. Only then do we add the sufficient to the necessary.
Sadly, as a society we work hard at narrowing and diminishing dreams. "He is a dreamer" is more often criticism than praise. It's like a crazy uncle you might be quite fond of, but hope he stays in his room when company comes calling.
And those who are actually praised for dreaming--someone like Martin Luther King and his "I have a dream" speech--are held up as almost mythical, super-human, worthy of reverence and acclaim but not repeatable. Praise him, but trying to follow his example is either hubris or madness.
I want to share my dreams and their evolution with you and I want to encourage you to tap into the power of your true dream. A Canada Day luncheon is the perfect time for this because while most people think of New Year's as the time for resolutions and new starts, for me, Canada Day is that time, for my dreams are shot through with Canada.
Like King, I have a dream, but, like all of us, I also am a dream. Or, rather, I am made up of many dreams starting with that of a young man, my Uncle Gaetano Rossi. He was the first of my relatives to come to Canada because he dreamed of building a better life for himself and his family. Truth be told, like many early immigrants, he assumed the dream would involve making money here in Canada and going back to Italy to live that dream. But Canada has a way of shaping and inspiring dreams and so his dream of a better life evolved into sponsoring his family and friends, and helping to build a better life here.
I contain, of course, large measures of my parents' dreams. And while they may never truly forgive me for not becoming a doctor or a lawyer, I explained to them that I couldn't stand the sight of blood, let alone suck it, and so was disqualified from both professions. Their fundamental belief that education is the key to a better life is something that burns in me always. That fire was in turn fueled further by a teacher, David Hampton, who saw potential in a young boy who wasn't ever actually a student in his class. Despite never being my formal teacher, David provided me with books and came in early or stayed late many days a week for several years to feed me with the dreams of writers, scientists, explorers, artists and politicians.
When I returned from university, I got caught up in the dream of building material wealth. I enjoyed business and quickly reaped the rewards of that dream as a successful executive. I thought I had it made. In August 2000, I was travelling in Belgium with my boss, friend and mentor, Don Kitchen. Don was the CEO of Labatt, he was on the fast track to becoming the CEO of our global parent, Interbrew, and was the very incarnation of and role model for my dream. We were in Belgium to present to our Board, the company was about to go public, and in so doing we were all going to make even more money. The presentation went extremely well and we all celebrated that night as only beer executives can.
That night, Don died of a massive heart attack in his sleep, aged 44, with two sons in school with my son. The first event in the gorgeous home, that he and his wife Linda had spent so many months renovating, was the wake.
There were many victims of that tragic event, and no doubt the smallest and least consequential of them all was my very narrow, and now shattered, dream.
I left Interbrew and stumbled around for a while looking to pick up the pieces. I helped turn around a software company and made some more money, but found no peace or purpose. To compound my sense of uselessness, I wasn't providing much nourishment for my son's or wife's dreams either.
At my wit's end, I went for a walk. It's a very special walk. For over 1,000 years, pilgrims from around the world have walked to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain along the fabled Camino de Santiago. I walked 900 km. over 30 days from the French border to the Atlantic, stopping at hostels, monasteries and church basements along the way and carrying all my possessions in a simple backpack. I met extraordinary people, but mostly I discovered the power of silence and being alone to explore my true nature. Like John Muir, "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
There were many sublime moments, but the most beautiful was saved for the last. At the end of the trail, pilgrims have long burned their pilgrimage clothes and thrown away their walking sticks to symbolize their re-birth as a new person.
I burned a set of clothes, but couldn't bring myself to throw away my wooden walking stick. I wanted to bring it back as a present for my father who loves to carve. Having refused to throw away the stick, I found myself walking to the resort town of Louro where I hoped to lie on a beach for a few days to recover.
About five kilometres outside Louro I passed a young boy of no more than 10 or 12 banging the road with a garden hoe. As I passed him, I called out "buenas dias" and asked him how he was. He stopped, looked up at me, dropped the hoe, grabbed hold of my stick with both hands and tried to pull it away.
Instinctively, I pulled back and actually lifted him off the ground! He grunted, but never verbalized, and it became clear that he was mentally challenged in some way, but his grip on the stick remained firm. I started to pry his fingers off the stick and was able to remove one hand this way, but when I turned to begin on the other hand, it suddenly occurred to me, "What in God's name was I doing? Was I so far gone that I would harm a mentally challenged boy for a stick?"
I put his hands back on the stick and said, "regalo para ti"--present for you. He looked at me with a face awash in confusion and then looked at the stick. Looked at me and then looked at the stick. I realized, of course, that we had just been struggling and I was still hulking over him so I repeated "regalo para ti" and then took a step or two back. He watched my backward steps intently and then lifted his head revealing the most beautiful smile I had ever seen in my life. The sight broke me and I collapsed by the side of the road crying like a baby. I had walked almost 900 km. but couldn't bring myself to walk the final 5 km. into Louro. The boy and the stick had broken me and then remade me. The joy I felt in giving away this simple thing that made someone else happy was enormous.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not advocating that you take a vow of poverty and give away all you have. I am a firm believer that the market economy is a powerful and important instrument for creating wealth and innovation and advancement, but in itself it is not a big enough dream.
The search for a big enough dream ultimately brought me to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario where I can combine what I learned in the business world with my dreams and the dreams of others.
People, by their very nature, want to dream and to be part of a larger dream.
One of the vehicles I have used to continue to feed my own dreams and hopefully inspire the dreams of others is to convert "pilgrimages" into fundraisers. Last year I kayaked 480 km. from Toronto to Ottawa and this year I cycled the 1,900-km. length of Yonge St/Hwy 11 from Rainy River to Toronto. They were meant to be audacious adventures that contained a "wow factor." These adventures were meant to touch and inspire people's dreams of what is possible when we put our hearts into something.
This year's adventure was inspired by a young boy's dream. Chase McEachern was in many ways a typical 11-year-old Canadian boy who loved his community, his family and hockey, and not necessarily in that order. But he suffered from an irregular heart-beat that would eventually kill him just two weeks before his 12th birthday. Not before, however, he had begun a campaign to ensure that defibrillators become as common as fire extinguishers in this country.
Chase found it odd, as I do, that public buildings are required to have fire extinguishers to protect property in the case of fire, but are not yet required to have the devices that can save the people inside the property. This simply must change.
You see, almost 7,000 Ontarians suffer cardiac arrest outside hospital settings each and every year. Currently, the survival rate for those people is less than 5 per cent. Why? Because every minute after a patient goes into cardiac arrest with no treatment, her chances of survival decrease by 7 to 10 percent and the average time for ambulance response in this province is over eight minutes--too long despite heroic efforts by our paramedics and firemen and police. But if you administer CPR and there is a defibrillator on site to shock the patient in the first few minutes, you can increase the chances of survival to 50 per cent or more. With widespread defibrillation, we could save 3,500 friends, neighbours, family members each and every year instead of fewer than 350.
Chase's dream has become my dream and part of the dream of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, and has inspired people like Richard Rooney, and George Cooke of Dominion of Canada Insurance, and David Blanchard and John Coyne of Unilever, and the teams at Scotiabank and Transamerica Life, and the provincial government of Dalton McGuinty to step up in a major way. The last provincial budget contained the largest, single investment into defibrillators in Canadian history and it will save lives for years to come.
The highlight of my ride down Yonge Street had to be my meeting with Michel Langevin in North Bay. Michel is a 40-something father of two, who on the evening of April 13 was doing what he has done for so many evenings since he was five; namely, playing hockey with friends in Sturgeon Falls. Only this night he collapsed on the ice from cardiac arrest. Thankfully, there was a defibrillator on site and people trained in CPR and Michel was saved; his children still have a father and his wife still has a husband. That defibrillator and that training were part of the very first investment we made through the Heart and Stroke Chase McEachern Tribute Fund only a few months before. Michel Langevin's friends call him "the miracle man," but he wasn't saved by a miracle. He was saved by the power of a small boy's dream.
Each of my pilgrimages has been driven by my dreams and, in turn, has fed them. Each has served to reinforce five important lessons: the journey is every bit as important a dream as the destination; the journey of 480 or 900 or 1,900 km. begins with a single stroke or step or pedal and so we shouldn't fear audacious dreams because we can accomplish amazing things a step at a time; we carry a lot of material and emotional baggage that diminishes and narrows our dreams and we must let it go; being alone is not the same as being lonely; and, finally, we should never underestimate the generosity of others nor the pleasure to be derived from helping others.
Right in the middle of the word "life" is the word "if." And it is absolutely appropriate that "if" is at the heart of life because "if" is the word of dreams and potential. But when the word "if" is left at the end of life, it becomes the word of nightmare and regret--"if only..." May you ask and answer all of your "if" questions during your life and discover your true dream.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Peter K. Large, Chairman, Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch, and Barrister and Solicitor.