Lets continue last week’s writing conversation.
Much to my surprise, I received a letter back from Neil within a week. He just assumed that my husband and I had the necessary strength of spirit that it takes, and would manage through this rather frightening time. His words gave us hope, and his assurance that the Montreal Children’s Hospital was a wonderful health care facility gave us confidence. We began our journey through the process of repairing Erin’s lip.
As time went on, I would update Neil on Erin’s progress. I sent him pictures of my beautiful girl. Life has a way of getting in the way, and years slipped by. Then I was looking at wedding pictures of Erin and her husband, and remembered Neil, and that it had been a while since I had had any contact with him. I sat down, put pen to paper, and filled Neil in on what had transpired, and how we loved our new son-in-law. Neil always replied to my letters and appreciated the pictures and updates. I felt that he was my friend.
Neil touched my life as I am sure he did with many of his friends and listeners. His letters showed compassion and understanding and encouraged me when I needed encouragement. Watching your child disappear into an operating room, spending hours in the waiting room, can leave one feeling helpless. Having support is vital. I was blessed in that I had a strong connection with my husband and family. But having support from someone outside that circle is important too. The whole process was foreign to us. Today, when I look at my lovely daughter (artist, wife, and mother), I know how lucky I am. That Neil took such an interest in an anonymous caller added to our coping skills.
In 1982 Frank Gallagher nominated Neil as a ”Great Montrealer.” ”He is the host of one of the city’s leading talk shows. His ability to handle all types of subjects, and give his audience the time to express their opinions, is always handled in the most gracious manner. His tolerance with the senior citizens, who are often very nervous when on the radio, is very heartwarming. Whenever he speaks with children, he never talks down to them and always treats them as equals. May callers keep his lines blazing. May he never run out of fuel.”
A Christmas to Remember
One morning just before Christmas 1983, Neil was having breakfast when he heard that, as a result of corporate funding cuts, Ville Marie Social Services would be unable to provide food baskets for about 4,000 families. Neil immediately decided to do something about it. But he was aware of the risk. What if he raised the issue on ”Exchange” and no one called in? Among his first callers were his neighbours, Gail and Gerald Fellerath, who had both served in the Peace Corps. They phoned in to say they would open a drop-off food depot at their store called Folklore on Sherbrooke St. in Westmount. Then the superintendent of an apartment building in the east end said he would do the same. A woman from Rosemere said she would drive people down to that depot. (A third of Neil’s listeners at the time were francophone). The appeal snowballed.
Stoph Hallward, a grade school student, volunteered to go door-to-door with a friend to collect canned food. He recalls that Neil’s efforts set off a chain reaction throughout the city.
”Neil McKenty stood out among my parents’ friends when I was growing up,” Hallward wrote. ”It was exciting to know someone I could hear on the radio, but when I think back on it, he never sounded any different hosting his own show than he did challenging my family in friendly banter around the dinner table. His being so so himself was probably what gave me the confidence to call him on his show, once. My friend Roddy and I, who went door-to-door in our neighbourhood collecting canned food. It was an easy sell and everyone gave generously. Neil and Catharine drove down to Ville Marie headquarters where they were met by a social worker, tears streaming down her face. ”I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. That Christmas, thanks to Neil, four thousand families were fed.”