- Frank O'Dea, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Some personal memories from the speaker. Going from skid row to being awarded the Order of Canada to speaking at the Empire Club of Canada – how? With hope, vision and action. An illustrative story. More personal history and the story of “The Second Cup.” Vision in Canada. First, the story of Peter Dalglish and his work with UNICEF and his tell of the World Health Organization and its work with AIDS relief. What the speaker and Mr. Dalglish created. Another story about Sierra Leone. The speaker returns to the issue of vision in Canada. Past visionaries. Looking forward to the next election. Effects on the speaker from his experiences in Sierra Leone. Reflecting on what we might be able to do for our country, our community, our family and for the world as Canada Day approaches.
- Date of Original
- June 18, 2008
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
June 18, 2008
Hope, Vision and Action
President and CEO, Arxx Building Products, Inc.
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Royal Commonwealth Society
Chairman: Catherine S. Swift
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests:
Peter K. Large: QC, Barrister and Solicitor, and Immediate Past Chairman, The Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch
Kim Wolfe: Anthropology Student, University of Toronto
Reverend Bill Middleton: Minister, Armour Heights Presbyterian Church
Julie Lindhout: President, The Atlantic Council of Canada, and Principal, Lindhout Associates Education Consulting
Larry Stout: Broadcast Journalist, and Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada
Nabarun Chaudhuri: President, Aithent Canada Inc.
The Hon. Sinclair Stevens: Chairman, The Royal Commonwealth Society Foundation, Chairman, Planet Today, and Former Cabinet Minister, Government of Canada
Edward Badovinac: CET, KH, CLJ, Retired Professor, George Brown College, Vice-Chairman, The Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada
C. Warren Goldring: Co-Founder and Honorary Chairman, AGF Management Limited, and Founding Director and Co-Chairman, Operation Dialogue
Dr. Charles Mayenga: Co-ordinator, Student Essay Contest, Royal Commonwealth Society, and Senior Consultant, Assessment Strategies Inc.
Catherine S. Swift: President, The Empire Club of Canada, and President and CEO, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Introduction by Arthur Downes, Retired Justice of the Peace in and for the Province of Ontario and Chairman, The Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada, Toronto Branch:
As a young man, Frank O’Dea was a homeless person, living on the streets, panhandling for nickels and dimes. Today, he is a celebrated business person. He is President and CEO of ARXX Green Building Systems and is a founder of a number of other successful businesses including Proshred Security and Second Cup.
In addition to that, he was the founding chairperson for War Child Canada, is cofounder of Street Kids International, and is a founder of the Canadian Landmine Foundation.
Recognition for putting his entrepreneurial spirit to work for the public good has come from many areas. Frank has received two honorary university degrees and has been invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada.
This incredibly inspiring story of resilience and triumph in the face of adversity is retold in his newly released, best-selling memoir “When All You Have Is Hope.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce to you a man who has shown that we really can make a difference, a man who is a nationally recognized advocate for hope.
Please welcome Mr. Frank O’Dea.
Thank you very much Arthur and thank you head table guests. I’m delighted to be here with you today and I’m particularly delighted, if I may go off my remarks for a moment, to see Sinc Stevens here. I haven’t seen him in many, many years. It is nice to see him and I think he is the epitome of grace under pressure so it is nice to see you again sir.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a particular delight to be here at the Royal York in Toronto with the Empire Club and the Royal Commonwealth Society. It is a great honour indeed given who has spoken before me.
Thirty-plus years ago I found myself standing just a short walk from here at the corner of Shuter and Jarvis Streets. Everything I owned was on my back. I had an old T-shirt, a pair of jeans, a blue coat that had turned green, a pair of running shoes and a day in my life was made up of going over to Yonge Street and pan-handling to get 99 cents. Two other guys and I worked the street. We would get 99 cents and then go to a local wine store to buy a bottle of wine. We would go back to the alleyway beside the flophouse in which we were living and I can recall the conversation as if it were yesterday. Tomorrow I will quit drinking. Tomorrow I will get a job. Tomorrow I will call my family. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow didn’t come and we would go back to Yonge Street. At the end of the day we had to make the most important decision of the day. Would we sleep indoors or sleep on a park bench? The rule in the flophouse was that you tied your shoelaces around your ankle. Otherwise the first guy up got the best pair of shoes. It was a lonely, dirty, and sometimes violent existence.
Contrast that, if you will, to standing on the red carpet just a few years ago, a citation being read, and surrounded by family, friends, and other recipients. Her Excellency, Ms. Clarkson, awarded me the Order of Canada.
And fast forward to today here at the Royal York with the Empire Club and the Royal Commonwealth Society.
How does one go from skid row to here, this wonderful meeting?
I suggest to you three words sum it up: hope, vision and action.
You see I believe that without hope you can have no vision. But a vision is merely a dream without taking the action.
I would like to start with a story and the hero of my story is always George so we will use George. It turned out that George was in very difficult shape. It was the 1930s. He lived in New York. He had lost his job and he had found himself on the Bowery. At the end of two days without eating, things had become very desperate. That evening, as luck would have it, a guy came by and told George about a job that he might be able to get. It turned out there was a small church around the corner that was looking for a bookkeeper. So the very next morning George went and rapped on the door. The pastor came to the door.
George said, “I understand you are looking for a bookkeeper.”
The pastor said, “Yes, what are your qualifications?” He said, “I don’t have any qualifications. I can’t even read or write. I thought just perhaps there might be something else I could do because I haven’t eaten in two days and perhaps I could just earn enough to get something to eat.” The pastor said, “We are very, very poor. I’m sorry we don’t have anything else for you to do and we couldn’t afford to pay you in any event.” He was just about to close the door but said, “Just a moment.” He went back into the kitchen and came out and gave George an apple. He said, “I don’t have a job but at least here is something to eat.”
George went to the corner of the street and he was just about to take a bite out of the apple when a guy in a suit went by and said, “I will give you a dime for that apple.” Now in the 1930s a dime was a lot of money and George was very hungry, but he looked at it and he made the exchange. He got about half way down the block when he saw a sign in the window: two apples for a dime. He became an instant entrepreneur. He went back to the corner and he was selling apples and going back and forth and after a while he had a stand on the corner and he was back and forth. Then he had stores, then he franchised, and then he had apple orchards and then he moved to Los Angeles and he had one of these wonderful offices on top of one of the great buildings in Los Angeles. He had just had an executive committee meeting.
He was thinking about his life with his feet up on the desk when he thought his was quite a story. Somebody ought to write a book. Well he lived in Los Angeles so he called a famous author.
The author came in and he told him the story and the author said, “You tell that so well George. Why don’t you write your own book?”
George looked at him and said, “You don’t understand. I don’t read or write.”
The writer said, “Imagine if you had gone on to high school, college and university, what might have become of you?”
“I would be a bookkeeper in a broken down church.”
We all have our stories.
I quit drinking in 1971. One thing and another led me to Oakville, Ontario. Business took me along and then through a set of circumstances I created “The Second Cup.” The first store was a disaster. We didn’t have a bookkeeper so we didn’t know that and we opened two more stores. We lost money even quicker. We lost a lot of money. We grew our business however by solving some of those problems and I can remember opening the seventh store. We were offered the seventh store just right here in the Eaton’s Centre. We had a store in the Eaton’s Centre, phase one. We were offered a new location in phase two.
Our banker who will remain anonymous had a bank branch in that shopping centre. We needed to borrow some money so we went to see that banker and we said, “We just need a little bit of money to complete the construction of the seventh store.”
He looked at us and said, “With six stores you have saturated the market for coffee stores in North America.”
I meant to speak about hope, vision, and action. This was a case of no vision. This bank will remain anonymous. It does, however, have a green sign.
I need to keep my remarks short and I want to talk about vision in this country. Before I do, I will tell you a brief story about two guys meeting on an airplane. I was flying to Florida. I left Toronto, got on the airplane and realized I had nothing to read. Before long I began chatting to a guy sitting beside me serendipitously. It turned out his name was Peter Dalglish. Peter hailed from London, Ontario; he was working in the Sudan in the city of Khartoum. He was working for UNICEF, working with children, and it turned out that there were 10,000 kids on the street. They had a slogan that translated into English “my mother the street.” His job was to find anything he could to help these children and he went to the U.S. embassy at one point and borrowed an old Tom and Jerry cartoon and one of those reel-to-reel movie projectors. He brought the projector back to this little shack, where there were maybe a dozen kids, and showed them the movie. The kids didn’t speak English but they were mesmerized by the animation. They saw it over and over. The next night 100 kids showed up and the next night 1,000 kids.
He went on to tell me the World Health Organization was testing kids for serious diseases. It turned out that 21 per cent were HIV positive. Kids were dying of AIDS. The idea that came to us on the airplane was to make an animated film to capture kids’ attention and deliver a health message. It had never been done before. To make a very short story out of a very long one, we came back, created Street Kids International, and made a film. We took it to Geneva to show the World Health Organization. They were having a symposium and they asked us to come. We decided we would just simply let the film speak for itself. We turned off the lights and turned on the film. At the end of 23 minutes you could hear a pin drop. The film was a benchmark for teaching kids about serious subjects for the 21st century. Forty million kids were targeted to see that film. Don’t tell me you can’t change the world. Two guys met on an airplane. Kids will live.
We live in a fabulous country, arguably the best country in the world. We have every obligation and every opportunity to do what we can. I recall going to Sierra Leone. I went there as the Chairman of War Child. Mr. Named Foday Sanko was the Opposition Leader in Sierra Leone. He had lost the last election and in that election the slogan of the winning party was “The future is in your hands.” Mr. Sanko went around with his thugs chopping people’s hands off. I met a woman carrying her niece who was at the time three years old. Eighteen months before, her arm had been chopped off. This was terrorism at its worst. Man’s inhumanity to man. I’ve seen horrible things with land mines and War Child and kids. I’ve seen the worst but I’ve seen also the best.
I’ve seen politicians like Mr. Stevens and others around the globe, people working just like you and I trying to create a better society all over the world. It is a remarkable place, this world of ours, and I have had the great fortune of seeing it all.
The question I have today though about Canada and its politics, given the closeness to Canada Day, is: “Where is the vision?”
What are our politicians talking about today? Where is the John A. Macdonald talking about a railway across the country? Do you think that was easy? Do you think there was no opposition? Of course there was.
Who will forget the debates between Mulroney and Turner over Free Trade and when we think about Pierre Trudeau and his just society, whether you agree or not, he had a great vision where people could come together. Mulroney with GST and Free Trade has changed the dynamics of this country. Mr. Chretien made a determination never to see a deficit again and on the international stage created the world accord and the landmine treaty for which I am very familiar.
Those were great visions. What are we talking about today? Julie Couillard’s cleavage. Where is the vision? All of our politicians are busy tinkering with the mechanics of politics rather than articulating a vision where we Canadians can follow. Where is that person? I challenge today our leadership to find a vision and articulate it. It won’t please everybody and won’t be easy, but I think Canadians will follow. Canadians want to follow. Canadians want to create. Canadians want to create a better society. Where is that leadership?
I look forward to the next election. I hope one of the leaders will have a clear vision of where they want this country to be at the end of the 21st century. Where will we be? What can we do? God knows the globe is in trouble. There are many challenges. Canada often has taken a forefront leadership role in many issues in the past. Why can’t we do it today?
As I have said, I have travelled the world. I’ve seen great horrors and great successes. When I come back to this country, I feel we need to be very, very grateful for this country. This country has afforded me great opportunity, but with that opportunity comes the obligation to give back. Many of us are here simply as an accident of birth. We got lucky.
In Sierra Leone the average income is $324 a year. When I came back from Sierra Leone, my wife said to me that I had changed and I think I had. I understood family much better. I understood the country and the value of this country and the values that Canadians represent. I had changed and I had become grateful. I was fortunate enough to see it. Not all of us can do that.
It was the end of October and our kids were very young. I took them out at Halloween and they were chasing across people’s lawns and knocking on doors and getting candies. There are lots of places in this world where that’s not possible.
Two and half years ago we had an election. We changed governments. Nobody was shot. That is a remarkable thing. In many countries, that is impossible. We have much to be grateful for. So I challenge our politicians once again. Where is the vision? Where will we be? How will we make this country a better place for our kids and our grandkids?
At the end of the day I think Desiderata says it best when it says, “Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
And on this Canada Day that is coming up in a few short days, let us always reflect on what we might be able to do for our country, our community, our family and for the world. God bless you. Thanks very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Catherine S. Swift, President, The Empire Club of Canada, and President and CEO, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.