GAIL ASPER'S SPEECH AT RADY 40TH Y SPORTS DINNER- June 19, 2012- Winnipeg Convention Centre
Good evening everybody and thank you for that lovely introduction Sheree. Sheree and I have been great buddies since law school at the U of M. She definitely belongs up here, having had the honour of being the first female sports journalist allowed in the Jets’ dressing room. And though that was 30 years ago, I’m sure she can still regale you with the long and the short of what she saw during those intimate interviews.
I know we have a very full agenda tonight and of course, we’re all waiting with great anticipation to hear from Mark Messier, so as King Henry VIII said to his wives - "I won’t keep you long".
Given my family’s longtime support of the Rady JCC, it is an incredible honour for me to be recognized by them and I thank the Rady Centre very much for this memorable evening.
It is also a double honour sharing the limelight with Mark Messier. I know he was nicknamed "the Messiah". Well we Jews have been waiting for the Messiah for a very long time and until the real one comes along he’s a great stand-in.
We also have another Mark who played the role of Moses - Mark Chipman, who led us out of the wilderness after only 15 years, not 40 years, to the promised land of the NHL.
Now it’s no secret that we Winnipeggers are pathologically committed to our Jets and I’ll never forget that first Jets game this year. Remember all the fights that went on between the people who owned a package of seats and who had rights to that first game?
I remember making my way to my gorgeous seats at centre ice, just a few rows up from the Jets’ bench (yes that’s what happens when you’re loyal to the Moose for 15 years – thanks very much Mark Chipman). Anyway I noticed that the seat next to my seat was empty. I saw an elderly woman beside the empty seat, all decked out in Jets paraphernalia – she had the jersey, the hat, the flag, the face paint and I asked her if someone was going to be sitting there and the she said no the seat is empty.
I couldn’t believe it because we know how incredibly coveted those seats were, so I said who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the very first Jets game and not use it. And so the woman said, actually the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my husband Bill but Bill passed away a few days ago. We have waited for the Jets to return all these years and now he’s not here. So of course I said "Oh my god I’m so so sorry, that’s just terrible, but couldn’t you find someone else like a friend or relative or even a neighbour to take this incredible seat?" The woman just shook her head very sadly and said no. And I said – why not? And she said, "Well…they’re all at Bill’s funeral!" All this to say, thank you Mark for your tenacity and vision.
Now while it’s wonderful to get this recognition, there are a group of people out there, and I’m sure there are many in this room, who are very much the unsung heroes. So, I want take this moment to give a round of applause to all the folks out there who coach amateur sports. My husband coached both of our sons in hockey for many, many years and I couldn’t believe the hours and hours of work he put into that coaching. It was very fulfilling, but also sometimes extremely frustrating and no one ever showered him with any awards or honours.
In fact, it was just the opposite. I remember during one game he called one of the 7-year old hockey players on his team aside and asked "do you understand what cooperation is, what a team is?" And the little guy nodded "yeah". "Do you understand that what matters is not whether we win or lose but how we play together as a team?" The little boy nodded yes. So Mike continued, "I’m sure you know when a penalty is called, you shouldn’t argue or curse or attack the referee or call him a jerk. Do you understand all of that?" Again this little boy nodded and Mike continued, "And when I call you off the ice so that another boy gets a chance to play, it’s not good sportsmanship to call your coach a big jackass, is it?" Again the little boy nodded. "Good" said Mike. "Now go over there and explain all that to your parents…"
So, to all of the coaches and assistant coaches out there, I’d like you all to stand up and let’s give a round of applause and I salute you all and thank you all for the incredible work that you do each and every year for our kids.
I’d also like to congratulate the Rady’s Executive Director, Gayle Waxman and her incredible team. Our community is really blessed that Rady is here for us all. It provides a backbone of the Jewish community and its programs and activities benefit all of Winnipeg citizens and beyond. All of the bases are covered by Rady, they are scoring touchdowns and putting the puck in the net each and every day.
This is also the 40th anniversary of the Y Sports Dinner and incredibly, Ken Kronson has Chaired it since its inception so a special Mazel Tov to Ken and of course to tonight’s dinner committee.
Now – those who know me well thought it was pretty funny that I’d be honoured at the Sports Dinner of all things because sports and me are about as a likely a combination as Tim Tebow wearing a yarmulke, eating gefilte fish.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought about trying out the gym that allegedly exists in the Rady Centre, I wondered what that nice drinking fountain that I donated in honour of my mom looks like, or even where it is, but since I know the Rady Centre’s waiting list for members is a mile long, I figure I’d let other more deserving masochistic people sweat and strain in my place.
Because it turns out that the Rady also offers great programming for we confirmed couch potatoes.
So, while many of you are all tearing your meniscuses racing around the track, severing your ACL in zumba classes and damaging your rotator cuffs overdoing it with the free weights, I’m grooving at the Izzy Asper Jazz Series, laughing at the movies at the Jewish Film Festival, hoovering down falafel at the Israeli pavilion and generally being blown away by the diversity of programming offered to our entire community.
I’m very grateful to Tamar Barr and Debbie Figowy here at Rady who work with The Asper Foundation in producing the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances and the Winnipeg International Jewish Film Festival and I’m proud to announce a new and even stronger partnership between The Asper Foundation and the Rady JCC with the establishment of the Babs Asper Centre for Cultural Arts. Arts and culture was near and dear to my mom and when my family was approached by Rady to create the Centre in her name, we were thrilled at this opportunity. Under the administration of Rady, the Centre will enhance all cultural programming it offers and we look forward to making a more formal announcement in the near future.
People often ask me why I’m running around Chairing United Way campaigns, volunteering with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, pathologically working to finish the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and now taking on the CJA campaign.
It’s not because I thrive on rejection, it’s because I feel if I’m getting the benefit of all that our community has to offer, I just have an obligation to step up and make my contributions to the organizations that improve my life. We’re so blessed to have hundreds of organizations that look after us when we’re in need, so blessed to enjoy world class arts and culture, so blessed to live in a country where, to quote Madam Justice Rosie Abella: "we can wear our identities freely and in peace", and so blessed as Jews to have a vibrant Jewish community that is flourishing thanks to our collective team efforts.
I was raised by my parents on the notion you can’t be a taker, you can’t just take up space, you have leave this world a better place than the way you found it.
My friend Lee Meagher’s grandfather explained it best - in this world there are two types of people – lifters and leaners. Lifters are people who are strong enough to be able to lift up other people and help them achieve their potential. There are two types of leaners – those who need to lean because they simply don’t have the strength, for whatever reason, to stand on their own, through advanced age, poverty, illness, whatever.
But there’s another kind of leaner too. The kind of person who has no problem letting others do the heavy lifting while they just stand by and the get the benefit of all that our community has to offer.
The fact is, at some point in our lives, we are ALL going to be leaners, so I figure we should be lifting while we can and making sure the community has the strength to help us in our time of need. Of course, when we lift others up, they get stronger and are able to become lifters too.
As my sister-in-law, Ruth Asper, owner of Strategym and a passionate athlete, always tells me, "Gail, if you want to get stronger, you have to lift more, you have to push yourself. Indeed, it’s the only way you will get stronger." Similarly when we flex our philanthropic and volunteering muscles the amazing and wonderful thing is, by helping others we get stronger too!
No one has ever gotten weaker by lifting more weights and no one is ever going to get weaker by supporting others and helping build our community. You’ll feel better, your heart will get bigger, you’ll create more lifters and you too will leave this world a better place than the way you found it.
I look forward to seeing the power lunges you’re going to make towards your cheque books when we launch the CJA campaign. I hope that you will give generously and say yes when someone asks you to get involved with your community. Be a LIFTER not a LEANER!
In closing, I’d like to thank my work family, Moe Levy, the incomparable Asper Foundation Executive Director and Jeff Morry, Senior Program Director, and my incredible assistant, the all-knowing Susie Catellier and my fellow Asper Foundation Trustees, my brothers David and Leonard, and Richard Leipsic. I’m so lucky to be able to accomplish a little Tikkum Olam, a little repairing of this world every day. And last, but not least, thank you to my wonderful, understanding husband, Michael, and my sons, Stephen and Jonathan for sharing me with the Museum, the United Way, MTC and now the Jewish Federation. I’m the luckiest wife and mother in the world and I thank you for always being there for me.
Congratulations again to all the award winners tonight and thank you again for this wonderful recognition.