I’ve been thinking quite a bit of my father of late.
My Dad was a physician, but spent his entire professional life teaching. It was his passion. So while he did practice within the University Health clinics, his primary focus was teaching.
Our family life and the many opportunities we experienced were shaped by his work. From his leadership role as Head of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Queens University — how was that for a mouthful to explain to your friends what your Dad did for a living — to the Team that established the University of Calgary Med School to investigating traffic accidents, setting up First Nation Health Units or serving as camp doctor at Camp Horizon; he loved working with people and helping lift our community.
Education, prevention and guidance were themes that rang through out house regularly. My Dad believed in the basic willingness of people to “do the right thing”, if they were informed and given good advice.
Case in point: In the mid-1970’s the debate ranged about seat-belt legislation. As a provincial responsibility, it was up to provincial governments to make the call. Alberta was one of the last holdouts for universal legislation. My Dad, at the time, was leading the Accident Research Unit in Calgary and the stats were quite clear that seatbelts saved lives. But rather than tilt politically against the wind of a reluctant government, he focused his efforts to child restraint legislation, something new at the time. No jurisdiction in Canada had effective laws in place. His goal, was to urge the government to establish the best child restraint legislation in North America, on the basis that 1) children rely on adults to make the choice 2) the statistics clearly supported that properly installed child restraint in vehicles saved lives 3) that parents would embrace legislation to do the right thing and protect their children.
My Dad liked to take on tall challenges. When Calgary was named host city for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in 1981, like many in our city, he was actively involved in the sport development side of the Games. But with the advent of a tobacco sponsorship in skiing ignited his community health background and put him on the pathway to encouraging the Calgary Organizing Committee to establish a “Smoke-free Olympics” policy. At the time, there was limited legislation and no “smoke-free” spaces. He saw the Olympics as a high visibility opportunity to promote smoking cessation. But my Dad was pragmatic. He understood that smoking is an addiction which at the time snared some 30%+ of the population. If the concept of a “Smoke-free Olympics” was to succeed, it needed 100% compliance. So his tactic was to call for ‘smoke-free’ spaces for athletes competing at the Games. Something people could understand and appreciate – keep the competitive space for the athlete clear of smoke – to get community buy-in. OCO’ 88, the Games Organizing Committee embraced the proposal, followed shortly by the International Olympic Committee, who urged the Seoul 1988 Summer Games Organizers to also implement a “smoke-free” policy.
The “Smoke-Free Olympics” are now standard policy for all Olympic Games, implemented by every Games organizer since 1988.
Today, faced with enormous challenges to deal with a calamity of global proportion, now, more than ever, we need to be sensible, pragmatic and respectful to gain and maintain full compliance of the public. We need honesty. We need clear information and we need to hear a message of hope for better times.
That’s why I keep thinking about my Dad.
His life was education. Taking on enormous public health policy issues meant patience and education to build a dialogue: to get people talking about the right stuff.
He was respectful. Built around the firm belief that if people have all the facts and understand, they want to do the right thing.
He used the process of dialogue and education to build a pathway, so when policy was enacted by government it was not into a vacuum, but into a pro-active environment that could drive positive outcomes.
Now, more than ever we need our discourse to adopt forward thinking guiding principles that my Dad used so effectively. As we move towards ‘re-opening’ the economy and restoring ‘normalcy’. can we urge the following:
1. Respect: if we, the public at large, are properly informed we will do the right thing. “Physical Distancing” is a perfect example – a high percentage of of us understood and are doing their part to ‘flatten the curve’. Speak to us, inform us … don’t lecture us.
2. Educate: there will be new normal and we will all need to understand it. We should be using this time – not to speculate or engage in hubris – but to educate how we can understand how best to do our part so we can do the things we love to do. How this will work in our places of employment, in our recreational spaces, on the street, in retail. Combined with respect, I firmly believe people will understand and do the right thing.
3. Be hopeful: leaders set the tone and right now, tone is everything to a public that has made a commitment to “do the right thing”. Dr. Bonnie Henry, Chief Medical Officer for British Columbia, has emerged as one of the stars of our current challenge. Her tone is warm. She engages and educates. She holds out a beacon of hope. She is honest, which at times comes with tough news, but when delivered reasonably, honestly and with hope – is well received.
Scaring people is counter-productive, which is instills a culture of fear. To those who use these tactics, please stop. Hectoring people, is already very old. The initial urgent moves to bar, limit, close, restrict and shut down were essential emergency measures. Almost universally, the public at large did the right thing. But the time of urgency has given us time to reflect …. and now we need to pivot, quickly.
If we want continued high levels of compliance – educate, offer solutions, shine a light on where we can get to if we do the right things now. Be positive.
We also have a once-in-100 year opportunity to create sustainable projects, think long-term, shape our cities and towns in ways that only a few weeks ago seemed unimaginable. Re-opening the economy presents enormous challenges. The last great calamity of this scope – the Great Depression – Canada’s recovery plan was to dig holes and then fill them up. We can and must do so much better. Let’s stop the partisan harangue and collectively ‘re-imagine’ our nation.
On a practical day-to-day level, we must creatively discuss what we can do. Move beyond cannot and towards possibilities. There is work and there is play. We need to quickly find ways to restore the activities that feed our spirit – arts, culture, sport, recreation – and embrace how we can get back to a new normal through educating how to, demonstrating what is possible. Our mental and physical well-being are essential – we need to very quickly spark a constructive dialogue how we can …. and move away from arbitrary closures or lock-downs which were essential several weeks ago.
It is heartening to see several leading Health Care officials emphasize the need for access to activity and recreation in recent days. We now need our political leadership to include sport, recreation and activity in the “opening up” of our society.
We need to think outside the box. We need to be visionary. We need to educate. We need to provide good guidance of “how to” and trust people.
And we need to be positive. Like my Dad.
Dr. John H. Read (1924-2002) – an advocate for public health and children throughout his life. Born in Joliette, QC, he served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II between 1943-45. After the war, he completed his medical degree in 1950 from McGill. He took a diploma in public health at the University of Toronto and finished his formal studies with a specialty in paediatrics from the University of Michigan. Through 35 years of education he was a teacher and leader through postings with the University of British Columbia (1957-1962), Queen’s (1962-1968), and University of Calgary (1968-1989) as well as a visiting professor to the University of Lausanne and a variety of projects with the World Health Organization.
He was always happiest on the lakes and rivers of Canada in the stern of his red canoe.
Related to this story:
Opinion: It’s time to carefully reopen parks and recreation areas: https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-its-time-to-revisit-the-closing-of-all-parks-and-recreation-areas/wcm/f8c985e3-2bd2-4dae-9619-fa4bdfdd1651/
Mount Baldy, California Reopens Wednesday, April 22: https://winter.mtbaldyresort.com/covid-19-guidlines/
Fonna Opens May 1st!: https://www.visitfonna.no/news/fonna-opens-may-1st
Thank you, Ken. So on the money with that one.
Ken: A great tribute to your Dad and great words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing.
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Thanks, Ken, and your Dad, for the reminder of what we need to bring out our better natures!
Regards to you, Linda and family….stay safe and healthy.
David and Mei-sheng
Ken, thank you for such a fine tribute to your father. He would be so proud of your achievements and those of your boys. It saddens me that he died too young to know them.