27 January 2011


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 28 January 2011

"Canada has given us John Candy and Martin Short and Bill Shatner and Lord knows how many other wonderful performers." Jamie Farr

Ragtime composer and piano player Scott Joplin wrote a wonderful lively tune he called, "Maple Leaf Rag"--written in 1897 and copyrighted in 1899, it remains among the most popular of ragtime scores and was the first instrumental to sell more than a million copies of sheet music. Among his other nearly four-dozen ragtime scores is the catchy tune "The Entertainer" featured in the 1973 hit movie "The Sting" starring the dashing duo Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Joplin, dubbed "King of Ragtime," was not Canadian; he was American--born a Texan and died a New Yorker.

As much as Mr. Joplin and his happy music interests me, today's Commentary is not about him nor ragtime. But it is tied to music. And it does include something about a "Maple Leaf Rag." And Canadians.

Here goes...

Jamie Farr, aka: Maxwell Q. Klinger, the flashy and finicky cross-dressing fruitcake U. S. Army Corporal of the sitcom "M*A*S*H" (1972-1983) who was always bucking for a "Section 8" discharge for being crazy, is right. Canada has given us some wonderful performers. Beyond those cited in his opening quote, musicians Neil Young, Gino Vannelli, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, and Shania Twain come to mind; especially Vannelli and his 1975 "Storm at Sunup" album. More about Vannelli, the man, in the Author's Endnotes.

In a moment I'll get to another one of Canada's "other wonderful performers."

But first...

Six years ago, it might be seven, while visiting a tiny cay off the coast of Florida I was introduced to a woman making her first junket to escape winter weather. She was from Toronto and had recently retired from her professional life.

I remember our introduction clearly. It was evening and my wife and I were visiting another couple we'd befriended a few years earlier. They, too, were from Toronto. Relaxing on the back deck of their cottage and enjoying an alcohol concoction tabbed "Bluebird," this new arrival, also a friend of our hosts, joined the social. She was clad in white and wore a white wide-brimmed knit-type hat pulled down to just above the top of her eyeglasses. Her hair, dirty blonde, fell from under the droopy hat to about her shoulders. It was dark so there was a bit of mystery about this stranger. She was friendly. At ease. Articulate and engaging. Confident. Clearly she was no stranger to social settings amongst strangers.

Not that evening but over time I learned "Trudy" had been an Executive Vice-President and Chief Admin Officer for Sun Media Corporation--Canada's 2nd largest newspaper--a Maple Leaf Rag--publishing company. She was the rare woman who'd climbed the challenging ladder in what was largely a man's business. Her demeanor that first introduction made more sense.

With nearly a full three-decade career behind her she was turning her time and energy to her community and country--philanthropic interests sitting on boards, fundraising committees, and mentoring young women were now among her life's priorities.

Trudy is the type of person who makes things happen--not one to sit around and watch them happen. Rummaging around the Internet, I found some words she spoke that reflect her personality and drive...

"I believe that people who have been successful in business owe it to those who are making their way up the corporate ladder to share their insights on why they believe they are successful. I learned firsthand that communication is key to success. I also learned to never mistake listening for learning; never settle for better when best is within reach; and to light fires within people rather than simply beneath them."

That's Trudy.

Each year since that first introduction she has returned to the tiny cay rejuvenating and deepening friendships, making new ones, and generously contributing time and energy to her adopted community. And there's a twist to her annual trip that began about four years ago. More on that later.

A few weeks ago Trudy introduced me to the work of one of Canada's "other wonderful performers"--Celtic Tenor and international recording star, John McDermott. Who, ironically, was working for the Toronto Sun--a Maple Leaf Rag--as a circulation sales representative when one evening he left a company party crowd stunned after belting out his rendition of 'Danny Boy.' "The rest," as they say, "is history."

I was not familiar with McDermott. I may have heard his music but not put a name to it. But I'm a fan now--of his music certainly but more so for the selfless work he is doing; of which Trudy is a big part.

John McDermott's philanthropic work is the heart of today's Commentary.

John heads a Foundation called, "McDermott House Canada." It's a not-for-profit outfit endeavoring to raise $3.6 million over the next three years for the purpose of enriching the lives, through quality palliative care, of Canada's Veterans, Military, and First Responders and community patients facing the final stage of a terminal illness.

The first project on the slate is the K1E Veterans Wing at Sunnybrook Health Services Centre in Toronto. The scope of work includes renovating 24 rooms, adding 8 rooms, and making the facility modern and more capable and comfortable for patients and loved ones supporting patients.

John McDermott is no stranger to supporting those who sacrifice in service to community and country. His father was a World War II veteran, and his mother's brother died in a P.O.W. prison camp. Throughout their lives his parents led their twelve children by example supporting their country's heroes. Imbued with a sense of duty early in life, John carries on the family tradition.

John's efforts on behalf of Veterans is not only recognized by his homeland. In 2001 he was awarded the U. S. Congressional Medal of Honor Society's "Bob Hope Award" for excellence in entertainment (oddly enough, Stephen Ambrose, whose quote opened last week's Commentary, "BAHAMACARE," received the Hope Award in 1999). His recently released CD, "Journeys," is a compilation of ten tunes--stories, if you will, and many with a Veteran flavor.

How to describe John's voice and music? Calming and haunting come to mind. His tales make you think, and appreciate. Some have told me they can not get through "Bringing Buddy Home" with dry eyes. I've listened to the tune once. Understandable. It reminded me of my casualty assistance duties when a young captain.

In cooperation with Universal Music Canada, John is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of "Journeys" to McDermott House Canada.

You have probably already figured out that business leader, community advocate, and philanthropist Trudy is somehow involved with this project. She is indeed. Trudy is one of two Vice Presidents and Founders of McDermott House Canada. And as with any and everything she tackles she is fully engaged and making a difference. She, too, is not unfamiliar with those who choose to serve community and country--she had an uncle--"Uncle Jimmy" whom she admired--who retired as a colonel from the U. S. Air Force.

Last fall I wrote a Commentary titled "TABLE 6" about spending an evening with an outfit in Colorado called "The Home Front Cares" and their fundraising efforts to support wounded warriors and their families. It did not go unnoticed by me the evening's generous main sponsor, who humbly asked to remain anonymous, was Canadian.

Time to return the kindness and generosity. 

A little research revealed that during WWI Canadian military deaths totaled nearly 65,000, and another 2,000 or so civilians were killed. The Wounded in Action accounted for another nearly 150,000. Significant losses when considering the country's population in those days was barely eight million. Another 45,400 combatants were killed during WWII--from a population of some twelve million.

At this writing, Canada's population barely breaks the 34 million marker. One hundred fifty four of her military countrymen have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). Those families do not hurt any less than ours. And then there are the wounded; some permanently disabled.

In John's words...

"I am passionate about supporting our Veterans, Military and First Responders through all phases of their lives. The selfless sacrifices they make to preserve our liberties must not be forgotten. From WWI to Afghanistan, and including every war or peace keeping mission in between, our Veterans have allowed us to live free and in peace in the greatest country in the world. Here at home, First Responders often put their own lives at risk to ensure we are safe.

It has become all too familiar to hear of the loss of another young person serving overseas. On this latest recording, I have included a number of songs that deal with not only the issues our young men and women face upon returning home but also the great sacrifices their families face on a daily basis.

I ask for your support in providing assistance to our Veterans, Military, First Responders and their families. Your donation will enable the palliative care unit in the Veterans Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to not only expand but to also enhance the quality of care available for those dedicated to our well-being and their families as they journey through the final stages of a terminal illness."

Should you be so moved to lend a helping hand visit http://www.mcdermotthousecanada.org/ for more information. John McDermott's website: http://www.johnmcdermott.com/ is also a good source for information--about McDermott House Canada and John and his superb music.

Donations, checks only please payable to "McDermott House Canada," may be sent to: McDermott House Canada, c/o Sunnybrook Foundation, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Suite H-322, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Vice Presidents and Founders Trudy Eagan and Dianne Schwalm may be reached at t.eagan@sympatico.ca or 416.697.5530 and dianne_schwalm@live.com or 647.308.7067 respectively.

If nothing else pick up a copy of "Journeys"--John's fabulous, peaceful but sobering music. A portion of your purchase will help the cause supporting our brethren in Maple Leaf country.

There is only one way to realize $3.6 million--one dollar at a time.

Thank you kindly!

Post Script

That twist regarding Trudy...

Beyond all else she does in business and philanthropic work, she writes, sings, and, for a few years now, is learning to "see" the world anew and paint color and shape. As with everything she has undertaken in life she is forging ahead, finding her way amongst struggle--a reality all artists and painters intimately know; a reality we all know.

Author's Endnotes

Here's Joplin playing his dandy "Maple Leaf Rag": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMAtL7n_-rc

By the way, in 1977 Billy Dee Williams played the lead role in a made-for-TV movie titled, "The Scott Joplin Story." It's well worth watching.

Weird. While penning this Commentary a friend sent an email about a 10 year-old King Penguin that's a pet to a family in Japan. The story was set to the tune, "Maple Leaf Rag."

Please take a moment to read Gino Vannelli's words and watch his touching performance backing a video  dedicated to Petty Officer First Class Jeffrey Alan Lucas--U. S. Navy SEAL. Petty Officer Lucas was killed in an aircraft mishap in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. It's personal for Vannelli, Lucas was a neighbor. And when it comes to military service, Canadian or American, Gino Vannelli, like John McDermott, gets it. http://hannity.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/10/19/tribute-to-a-fallen-hero/

The inventor (the gentleman half of our hosts) of the "Bluebird" passed away in June 2010. His wife held a life celebration in his honor on the tiny cay last Friday evening. We miss you, Larry, but know you're happy. So have another "Bluebird" with cherry--or two or three! And know we'll always raise at least one "Bluebird" in your honor when visiting Sand Bar. Cheers!

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