The Inside Story
By Neil McKenty
The Special Olympics And A Special Wedding
Early in November, 1969, I went to see the Jesuit provincial’s assistant, Father Ed Dowling, to tell him of my decision to leave the Jesuits. He was understanding and supportive – as were the provincial himself, Father Angus Macdougall, and all my other Jesuit friends and associates. There was no hint of blame, no mention of the enormous sums of money the Jesuits had invested in my education and my health through a period of twenty-five years. Quite the contrary – I was invited to stay in my old room at Hawthorne Gardens until I could find a job.
So it was with optimism and enthusiasm that I began my job search in mid-November. Far from being stressed, once I had made the decision to leave the Jesuits, I experienced a feeling of peace, energy and well-being, in a word – liberation. This was perhaps the first mature decision I had ever made, mature in the sense that it was not dictated by the expectations of other people. So, looking for work, sometimes lining up as many as three or four appointments a day, was an adventure. Within six weeks of my forty-fifth birthday I was excited as a teenager about what exciting prospects lay just around the corner.
I looked where I thought I had some strength – communications and publishing. An editorial position with a large publishing house fell through at the last minute as did another at TVOntario. I declined an entry-level reportorial job at The Globe And Mail. Then, at the suggestion of Father Gordie George, I went to see Harry E. ”Red” Foster, the founder and owner of the successful advertising firm bearing his name.
Red Foster, then sixty-four, was a big man in body – he had been a star football player on the Balmy Beach Grey Cup champions – and a big man in spirit (a dynamic, ebullient mixture of business tycoon E.P. Taylor and Mother Teresa). In memory of his intellectually handicapped brother, Red Foster had established a foundation to advance the cause of the intellectually handicapped across Canada.
I went to see Foster, not about his advertising agency, but about his Foundation for the Intellectually Handicapped. I had heard that he could be as tough as nails, but I liked Red Foster right away and I think he liked me. After several searching interviews, he hired me as the first executive director of the Foster Foundation. It was the first real paying job I had ever had. I well remember the salary, $12,000 a year. Then for good measure, Red threw in the keys to his old family home at 4 Oaklands Avenue, just below De La Salle College, where I could live rent-free.
As I packed my trunk at Hawthorne Gardens in early March 1970, I could scarcely credit my good fortune, but it was tinged with a sadness for what was ending. In the trunk was the last official document I would ever receive from the Jesuit order. It was just three words relating to a decision already ratified in Rome about my dismissal from the society of Jesus: Litteras dismissionis acceptit. So few words to end so long journey. Then Father Logie drove me the few short blocks to my new home at 4 Oaklands. We wrestled my trunk up to the second-floor living room. Logie left and I sat down and looked at the telephone, thinking to myself I could ring up the world. And I laughed out loud.
Working with Red Foster for the next two and a half years was like working for a threshing machine. There were speeches to write and sometimes deliver, meetings to attend and events to organize. But by far the most exciting element of the job was Red’s association with the Kennedy Foundation in the States. The Foundation was headed by the late President’s sister Eunice and her husband, Sargent Shiver. As a result of this connection, we introduced the Special Olympics for the Intellectually Handicapped into Canada and convinced the Kennedys to accept floor hockey as part of the Special Olympics program. Red persuaded the National Hockey League to support floor hockey and we convinced Prime Minister Trudeau to throw out the puck at the first floor hockey tournament, which was held at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
To be continued…
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