Commemorating 15 Years of Workplace Safety Success
The following presentation was delivered by Maryanne Pope, Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF), in Calgary, AB at the JPMF’s 15th Anniversary event on May 23, 2015
Thank you so much for coming this evening and for all your support over the years – I really appreciate it…all of us at the JPMF do.
And a special thank you to Calgary Police Chief Paul Cook, Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth and EMS Chief Darren Sandbeck – for taking the time to attend this event and saying a few words. Your presence here tonight speaks volumes.
As you all know, in September, it will be 15 years since John passed away. But I remember, like it was yesterday, a specific incident at John’s funeral reception – that I’d like to share that with you now.
After John’s funeral, we were all in this huge banquet room at the Hyatt downtown and someone was up at the podium, saying a few words about John. I was in the crowd, listening…and I specifically remember standing beside the buffet table – ‘cause if there’s a buffet in the room, I’m not gonna be far from it 🙂
Anyway, I remember standing there, listening and I suddenly got really nervous. I just had this really strong feeling that I needed to say something. But I had no idea what. And then I felt this little…almost like a push from behind. But when I turned around, there was no one nearby.
Then the next thing I knew, I was walking towards the podium. And then there I was, standing at the mike…without a clue of what I was going to say. Boy, did that room of a thousand people ever go quiet fast.
And then I heard myself say, “I am SO determined to make sure something good comes from John’s death.”
And now here we are, almost 15 years later, and it is absolutely amazing to see just how much good has come from John’s death through the workplace safety initiatives of the JPMF – and in many other ways, too.
But what I didn’t know all those years ago, standing at the podium as a broken-hearted and terrified young widow, was that the key to ensuring positive change came from John’s death had very little to do with “I” and everything to do with learning how to work with like-minded individuals who cared just as much as I did that John’s death hadn’t been in vain.
And since you’re here tonight, you fall into that category…one way or another.
But in the early days, some of those like-minded individuals were the 3 police officers –recruit classmates of John’s – who started the JPMF: Cliff O’Brien, Glenn Laird and Joel Matthews. And through brainstorming together, we realized that the tragedy of John’s preventable death could be used as a powerful educational tool to help prevent other workplace injuries and fatalities.
And if John were here today, I think he’d be shocked to see what the 4 of us somehow managed to get off the ground…so I guess we must’ve got some work done over all those lunches and beers at Joey Tomato’s 🙂
But what I also I didn’t know 15 years ago – and I don’t think Cliff, Glenn and Joel did either, which is a good thing – was just how much work it would be to try and tackle an issue as mammoth at workplace safety.
So although the 4 of us figured out pretty quick what we wanted to achieve – educate the public about why and how to make their workplace safe for everyone, including emergency responders – we had no clue how we were going to achieve that…nor how much time, effort and money it would take.
But we muddled through somehow and got the first 2 PSAs done – with the help of a lot of people, including Shannon Lyons who did some great work for us in the early years.
And then Ian Wilson, our Managing Director, found his way to us – and helped us find our way through the Boots PSAs, safety video, Safety Presentation Program and dozens of fundraisers, community education events and countless grant applications.
Ian has been a tremendous blessing to me personally by taking on the role of Managing Director – ’cause I really sucked at it – and is an incredible asset to the JPMF. Ian makes things happen. So thank you, Ian, for all you do, including tonight’s awesome event.
Now you’ve already heard 2 of our safety presenters tonight – Jody Laird and Lindsey Jepson. They are both outstanding speakers – and are doing a phenomenal job getting out into companies, schools and conferences to deliver the JPMF workplace safety messages.
And, as Jody mentioned, it is through the Safety Presentation Program that we are finally starting to see actual behaviour change. So thank you Jody & Lindsey – and welcome to our newest presenter, Sarah Starling.
I’d like to give a quick shout-out to Brian Willis. Brian’s not an official JPMF speaker – i.e. we don’t pay him! – but he delivers officer safety presentations all over North America…and always mentions the JPMF.
I’d like to give a special thanks to Sarah Hourihan, who was our first Safety Presentation Coordinator. Sarah did a tremendous job getting the program going. And now Carolee Israel-Turner has jumped in with both feet and doing a great job.
I’d also like to thank Kristin Atkinson, who is the Secretary on our Board and a long-time volunteer and very dear friend of mine – as well as Aaron Chakowski, who is a now a Director on our Board. And welcome to our newest Board members, Rui Medeiros and Paul Wyatt.
And a huge thank you to ALL our volunteers over the years…from those who have worked our casinos, the CPS ½ Marathon, the CPA golf tournament and everything in between. Our volunteers are absolutely imperative in helping us raise the funds needed, for us to get our safety messages to the public.
Thanks also to all financial supporters and donors…and that includes all of you who come out to our special events, drink too much and then spend lots of money at our silent auction!
I’d also like to thank Jan Stuggert, who works in Occupational Health & Safety. Jan is a tremendous supporter of the JPMF and she is one of our pipelines to the OH&S world – some of whom are here tonight. So thank you Jan and to all of you in OH&S – both for coming this evening and supporting the JPMF…as well for all the important work you do, day in and day out.
And on that note, a big thank you to all the police officers, firefighters and EMS in the room tonight…it is an honour to be able to work with the JPMF to help raise public awareness about the risks you face on the job. So thank you for doing the work you do…and thank you to your spouses and family for all their behind the scenes support.
Which brings me to my own family and friends – and John’s family and friends. Although you probably think I’m crazy – which I am – for my rather obsessive dedication to the JPMF, I think you know that the work we’re doing does make a difference. And so for your behind the scenes support all these years, I thank you.
The past 15 years have taught me what team-work can achieve. Workplace safety IS a massive and complicated issue.
But by working with others and using John’s death as a powerful – and personal – example of what can happen when safety isn’t a priority, we are collectively working towards creating a culture where everyone gets home safely from work.
On a final note, I’d like to share with you a little chat that Cliff and I had a couple of months ago – about tonight’s event.
Now, Cliff and I have had many little “chats” over the years…and they often go something like this: “Hey, Cliff, I have a great idea for the Memorial Fund!”
“Okay, so for a fundraiser, how about we make some of those bobble-head dolls for the dash board on cars! We can sell them for $50 each and there can be a police one, a fire one and an EMS one!”
So I keep going: “Maybe we could even have a John bobble-head as the police officer…no, no, that’s kinda weird. Okay, we could have you or Glenn or Joel’s head bobbing around up there…”
Then Cliff gives me the look. And says: “You are kidding, right, Pope?”
And another bad idea shot down! But it proves my point about the importance of team-work.
Anyway, the chat Cliff and I had a couple of months ago was of a more serious nature. Because, in usual Cliff-style, he said it like it was: “This 15 year anniversary-thing…I don’t like the word celebration. Yes, we’ve achieved a lot in John’s memory – but the whole reason for the existence of the JPMF is nothing to celebrate.”
He’s absolutely right. But therein lies the paradox of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. An incredible guy by the name of John Petropoulos died at the age of 32 – because of a missing safety railing.
But since we can’t bring John back, the next best thing we can do – and are doing – is help ensure that what happened to John doesn’t happen to others…one PSA viewing, one safety presentation at a time.
So then perhaps tonight we are…commemorating 15 years of achievements, while remembering a pretty awesome guy who gave his life in the line of duty.
But we still have an awful lot of work to do.
Since John’s death in 2000, more than 14,000 Canadians have died from work related injuries or illnesses. That is staggering.
But on a happier note…actually, it’s not that happy either. But it’s gonna have to do ‘cause that’s what’s next on the agenda. The JPMF Board is having to say good-bye to one of the founding members: Glenn Laird.
Glenn has been the Treasurer for 15 years! That’s incredible. Mind you, in the early years, of course, the Treasurer position was fairly quiet because there were very little deposits to keep track of! We had lots of ideas but no money! But, as the JPMF grew, so did the number of trips to the Calgary Police Credit Union…as did all the e-mails flying back and forth.
But Glenn has been much more than the money-guy for the JPMF. Glenn’s motto has always been, “Let’s get ‘er done, Pope.” After John’s death, there was a time to grieve and a time to plan. And then the time came to get things done. And through his actions, Glenn taught me how to get out of my own damn way – and just get done whatever needs doing.
Glenn, on behalf of the JPMF, I cannot thank you enough for all your hard work over the past 15 years. Now, as a big rough & tough cowboy and former Tac cop, I would love to make you cry, so here goes:
As you know, my Mom and John did NOT get along. But my Mom did respect him. And she always said you can usually tell the calibre of a man by the quality of his friends. And Glenn, you have proven this to be true.
You have gone way above and beyond the call of friendship…and I know John would be so proud of all you’ve done to help ensure his death wasn’t in vain.
And Cliffy, that goes for you, too.
Now if you can both come up here a sec, as Glenn we have a little something for you from the JPMF…in appreciation of your 15 years of hard labour.
P.S. It worked…I actually DID get Glenn to have a bit of a sniffle!
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s e-zine, please subscribe here.