[Editor's Note: The following are Moe Levy's remarks introducing Gail Asper,O.C., O.M., L.L.D., delivered on November 18th, 2014 when Asper received the 2014 Duff Roblin Award at the Fort Garry Hotel with over 300 guests.]
Ladies and gentlemen – thank you for joining us to honor Gail Asper with the Duff Roblin award. Tonight you have chosen an outstanding, passionate citizen of Manitoba.
I’m truly honored to introduce Gail as she adds this award to her order of Canada, order of Manitoba, two honorary doctorates, the queen’s golden and diamond jubliee medals and a number of other awards too numerous to mention. She is a corporate and commercial lawyer and has served on the boards of Canwest Global Communications Corp and Great West Life Co. Talking about being a lawyer, she has a great sense of humour, when Macleans magazine’s front cover pictured that all lawyers were rats - she wore a cheese hat and a mouse nose with whiskers as she addressed 600 of her fellow lawyers at the Canadian Bar Association in Calgary.
Gail makes the energizer bunny look anemic! She is best known for her leadership in creating, along with David and Leonard, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As national chair of The Friends, she has raised $147 million of which, ladies and gentlemen, an unbelievable $100 million has come from Manitoba. But she has and continues to do so much more. She is without a doubt the best fundraiser in this country.
She has chaired the United Way Campaign, has co-chaired the two campaigns for a total of $16 million for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and is currently the national chair of two major national campaigns - The Friends of CMHR and the National Arts Centre and has just come off chairing the Combined Jewish Appeal’s record breaking campaign for two years. In addition, she has supported her husband Mike Patterson in his campaign to save the experimental lakes area, which by the way, he succeeded in doing. All while as a board member of CMHR and getting the museum opened in September of this year and putting on the best party to honour our donors. Oh and did I mention her full time job as president of the Asper Foundation, one of Canada’s largest private foundations.
Gail is known for leaving messages for people at work in the middle of the night, because when Gail needs to talk, nothing stops her – not distance, time zones, laryngitis - nothing. Her messages are highly entertaining; sometimes they contain her singing to illustrate her point; sometimes she whispers them because she is in a closet somewhere so as not to wake up her family; sometimes they contain swear words and snacking or drinking coffee is almost always involved.
However, most of her calls are to show appreciation for the work that has been done, while she slides in list of 20 more to-do items. The next morning we will usually discuss these 2:00 am calls as we get our coffee and I ask ‘how are you doing?’ expecting her to say ‘I am tired’ but instead its ‘I feel terrible, I accidentally ate the whole jumbo bag of cheetos’.
Gail has a strong sense of justice and an even stronger sense of excellence. Good enough will never do … and she pushes for excellence. We have Predock’s iconic design and when you see the alabaster ramps in the CMHR, it is because of her. She also has a tendency to adopt theme songs along the way, such as Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down” or as recently as last week when we were in Jerusalem and I walk by her hotel room, I could hear her singing ‘climb every mountain’ before our meeting with the president of Israel.
Yet despite her strong exterior, she has the heart of pure gold. She sees the good in everyone and is a champion for the underdog. She is the girl who “can’t say no” from the musical “Oklahoma”. And she is right. She will help, defend, champion, care for, donate to, cook for, adopt, mentor, and love anyone who asks…. And even some who don’t. I am in awe about how she may be in London or Israel and after an 18 hour day will call her uncle Mark or father-in-law Rod Patterson to cheer them up. She puts everyone’s needs before her own, and most especially has put the welfare and potential of this city at the top of her list. Through all of this, Gail is deeply committed to her husband Mike and her two sons, Stephen and Jonathan. Mike you are the only husband I know of that is greeted at the airport by his wife with balloons and a welcome home sign after a short trip to Toronto.
So what’s on her to do list one may ask?
- Negotiate a peace deal in the Middle East
- Change the speed limit on Academy from 50km to 60km. As some of you know, posted speed limits to her are mere suggestions as are the stop signs, yield signs or detours. No parking, stopping or loading zones are some kind of weird April fool’s joke and make great parking spots.
- But far more achievable is her mission to create a statue of Duff Roblin standing next to sand baggers to show his leadership in saving our city several times over the past decades. So when she calls on you on this campaign, just say yes and save yourself a lot of time.
Dr. Martin Luther King said ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’ No other person that I know responds to this question better than Gail, every day she gives a thousand percent more than she ever gets.
Her brother Leonard Asper, in today’s program, put it best when he said “Gail, you truly are a gem and you make the world a better, sunnier place whenever you go.”
Ladies and gentlemen – please welcome the one and only Gail Asper.