Thank you Moe for that wonderful and revealing introduction. As you can probably tell, working with Moe for the past 15 years is a lot of fun as well as being enormously inspiring. I don’t think you will find a more optimistic, observant, energetic and pragmatic person in Canada and I count myself very lucky to work with him at The Asper Foundation.
Well, good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you all for coming out to support the University of Winnipeg and to honour the contributions of Duff Roblin - one of our great, perhaps THE greatest provincial leader Manitoba has ever had.
I’m deeply honoured to be receiving the Duff Roblin Award from the University of Winnipeg because I greatly admire this institution and this man who has been described as progressive, public-minded and a pragmatic visionary. I also admire all the past recipients who include some of my favourite people.
It’s so great to see that the University of Winnipeg, under Lloyd Axworthy’s also visionary leadership, has developed some well-deserved swagger. It seems to have become the largest real estate developer on Portage Avenue, but really it’s a swagger with heart. Fuelled by a belief in science, a belief in human rights, in the arts, a belief in lilacs as we know from the gorgeous Babs Asper Lilac Garden outside the Theatre and a belief in supporting all students and recognizing the need to provide more support for new immigrants and Aboriginal students.
I’m delighted that the money we’re raising here tonight is going to something near and dear to my heart, namely, eliminating barriers and making university accessible and welcoming to those who are interested in secondary education, regardless of their means and their background. My parents taught me that education is one of your most important assets. It’s an asset you can never lose and provides confidence, independence and control over your destiny.
I am delighted that both my sons, Stephen and Jonathan, are graduates of the Collegiate. My son Stephen has also just completed his undergraduate degree here and my other son Jonathan, who is here with us tonight, is finishing up his undergraduate degree at the U of W. And, my husband Michael Paterson, is an adjunct professor here, so there is a BIG connection with the U of W and our family and we owe a lot to this institution.
I’ve always felt that a community flourishes when its institutions of higher learning are strong and well respected. So, we here in Winnipeg need to ensure this University and all our universities continue to receive the support they need from the government, private sector and the students so they can continue to serve the needs of the students and community at large.
I would like to give a warm welcome to Annette Trimbee, who is our new President. It’s also wonderful to see the expertise and understanding she brings to learning in general and science and water studies in particular.
I must confess, being married to Mike, the scientific leader of the Experimental Lakes Area, I’ve become quite fond of people and institutions like the University of Winnipeg that support fresh water research and stood by ELA in its darkest moments. The U of W has been AWESOME. I hope some wonderful partnerships will flourish with the U of W now that ELA is under the management of the entrepreneurial and courageous International Institute for Sustainable Development and is receiving $2 million in new annual funding from the Province of Ontario. Thank you Kathleen Wynne and thank you Government of Manitoba for having supported the IISD all along.
Now regarding Duff Roblin - I’ve been thinking about Duff Roblin a lot for several years. Actually since 1997 when we experienced the so-called flood of the century (which now seems to show up annually) and I realized what incredible vision he had. The kind of vision we rarely see these days in politicians. Vision that resulted in the creation of a floodway that has saved billions of dollars and avoided huge disruption for hundreds of thousands of people over the years.
He is a Manitoba hero and we need to do more to celebrate our heroes. I’ve really felt that we needed a prominent, unmissable 24/7 recognition and I’ve dreamed of developing a fabulous statue of him beside several figures forming a sandbagging line, which could be on the pedestrian railway bridge at The Forks. We would also have a series of panels explaining who Duff Roblin was, what he believed in, including his huge contributions to education in Manitoba, and also how the floodway was developed because most Manitobans and frankly, of course, all the over one million visitors to The Forks, have no idea how our floodway works, how flooding happens in Manitoba and actually how thousands of Manitobans are mobilized as volunteers each year to sandbag when necessary.
So, now that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is open and that little 14-year odyssey is complete, I’m looking forward to getting smaller, but no less important projects underway. I actually have a maquette, a little model, of this proposed installation and anyone interested in working on that historic, artistic, educational and tourist-friendly statue can see me after the dinner.
Okay, now we have the housekeeping out of the way and I again want to reiterate how delighted I am to be here. When Bob Kozminski very diligently and persistently tracked me down this spring to tell me I’ve been selected for this award, I did mention to him that I was a tad distracted because of the work that needed to be done regarding the imminent opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and that every waking moment seemed to be consumed with fundraising, content meetings, audit meetings, strategic planning sessions and epic debates on the opening ceremonies and what the format would be.
In fact, I think I suggested it would be better to let someone else be honoured this year. But Bob persevered, refused to budge and now that we’re all here together, I’m glad he ignored my protestations.
The fact is, it’s nice to be here, nice to take a deep breath and take a moment to count my blessings and share my thoughts on how important it is to look around, stop and smell the roses, take nothing for granted and always try to leave the world a better place and never let a day go by when you haven’t made the day brighter for someone else.
Now, of course, I know for those of you in the audience who know me – you know that I don’t do that at all. I never stop and smell the roses and while I like to work on macro projects that improve the world, I can’t say I’ve been great at being the most considerate person on daily basis, especially for those of you who’ve witnessed my driving.
But I realize you can’t keep saying - “I’m going to do that starting next week.” Somehow we need to find the motivation and discipline to stop procrastinating and focus on how to make life better in small ways because at the end of the day that’s what life is all about and it’s the best way I know to find meaning in an often confusing, draining, cruel and possibly meaningless world.
So, hopefully, when we all leave here, you and I might think how we can try to incorporate maybe one act of kindness, consideration or respectfulness that we wouldn’t have otherwise done and see what kind of joy we can bring to a pretty tough world.
One thing I don’t ever take for granted is how incredibly blessed I am to have been raised by two remarkable individuals, Babs & Izzy Asper, who set a fine example of citizenship and commitment to community. And they of course both were inspired by their parents who embraced the same principles of how to conduct ourselves in this world.
I remember my dad lecturing me on philanthropy and volunteering when I was in my early 20s. On the philanthropy front, his motto was: Give while you live, so you can see the benefits of your philanthropy and give as you live. You want to drive a fancy car, take nice holidays, live in a lovely home – great! Go for it! But just remember how lucky you are to be able to do that and how much chance there was in being able to enjoy that kind of life and never forget your responsibility to those who, through no fault of their own, don’t share that same good fortune. So that meant being a Leader of the Way with United Way, supporting one’s community and being a fair share giver.
But it also meant not sitting back and enjoying all the benefits of this amazing community. It also meant rolling up your sleeves and diving in to volunteer as well because it takes a lot of effort to live in a healthy community. Because we all live here, it behooves all of us to not just be takers, but to be contributors.
Frankly, I would feel just too guilty today taking advantage of everything our community offers us without playing role in strengthening it. I love theatre, opera, dance, music, so of course I support the arts as a volunteer and donor.
I believe our universities can only succeed if we support them and we must support them because as I said, every strong, productive, forward-thinking society has strong, well-funded universities that attract great professors, great students and produce great research. The same is true with healthcare, social services – donating and volunteering is what makes this community work and it’s why we have such an amazing community that really punches above its weight. It’s no secret that when it comes to volunteering and philanthropy, Manitoba consistently ranks at the top when compared to the other provinces. We have great role models and the examples they set continue to inspire us from generation to generation. And, it’s nice to see that the trend is continuing with the young people of today thankfully.
So in closing, I just want to say that I don’t feel particularly special. I’m a product, as many of you are, of the leadership of my parents, the example set by many others, like Duff Roblin, and the beneficiary of the expectations placed on all Manitobans. So thank you for this recognition, but I owe a huge debt to everyone who taught and inspired me to step up and contribute when it would have been a lot easier to snuggle into my couch and binge watch “Breaking Bad”. That said, I can’t imagine how dull and boring my life would be without all the grand adventures I’ve had over the years and the remarkable people I’ve met during my involvement with the arts, United Way, Combined Jewish Appeal and of course, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Despite having lost a few million hours of sleep, paying a few million dollars in speeding tickets rushing to get to meetings, making a few million calls to my wonderfully supportive husband Mike and my kids Stephen and Jonathan explaining why I’ll be late for dinner AGAIN, gaining a few million pounds hoovering down too many cocktail wieners at fundraising dinners, it’s made my life incredibly rich and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing and I look forward to the next 50 years of commitment to community.