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Thoughts on trailblazers who influenced me

Today we go back 30 years to read about two trailblazers that influenced my life through their leadership. As you move through this week’s missive, the observations as they appear are through my lens. Both men were recognized a little over a week ago for their contributions to the community and it is through their contributions that so many lives changed for the better.


A little back history – Joe Drago hired me in 1981 to teach at Chelmsford Valley District Composite School. He tells people I was the only applicant; I tell people he chose the best applicant. And this was the beginning of his influence on me. I was raised to work hard, lead by example, and give your best. This is what happens when you work for the family business, lol. Might have been a little transference afterall Joe is of Italian descent. For me he was larger than life, in control, dynamic, focused, tough, yet he was big on creating a sense of community for the staff and students. Joe encouraged us to share social time as a staff. At first, I didn’t get it but as I became more astute about life and the importance of relationships the social component for the work family creates a strong sense of team. Joe is all about team. Hockey remains central in his life – played, coached, volunteered and is presently the Chairman, Hockey Canada Board of Directors. Joe was the founding chair of the Sudbury Regional Hospital Foundation and served as volunteer for 27 years. These are just two examples of Joe’s contribution to the broader community. This is shared to give you a sense this man is about giving back and making what exists stronger, more viable, and purposeful; to understand this man is aware of what is, what could be, and how to make it happen.


When Joe became the principal of Sudbury Secondary he was astute about what could be if a change in the way of doing business didn’t happen. With two daughters involved in dance he had a seed of an idea to create a performing arts school and so began the efforts to make it happen. The 30 years of celebration recognizes when the program started and doesn’t include the work beforehand. Joe galvanized a strong team to do the work to ensure the program would become a reality and certainly put together a knowledgeable, talented, dedicated group of people to ensure the students would be challenged, excited, and committed. For the past 30 years the City of Greater Sudbury has been entertained. Over the years I continue to attend performances and each time I walk away in awe. Not too long ago Leila, Kristy and I took in Let’s Dance.


Cst. Grant Dokis recently retired from Greater Sudbury Police Service after 30 years of service. Grant was the first indigenous person to serve with GSPS and became the first Aboriginal Liaison. Grant’s style of leadership is different than Joe’s and as influential, which is one of the lessons in life I appreciate. As I mentioned last week the Mkwa celebration and the fact Cst. Grant Dokis is the driving force since its inception and most likely the primary reason Mkwa still thrives. Because of his commitment, effort, ability to engage people, and belief this program is a positive way to bring the Indigenous youth and police officers together, Mkwa is embedded in best practice for the Service. Grant had a seed of an idea, shared it with Chief Davidson, who could see the need and value of the program replied with a simple “We will make it happen.” And once again, a supported team was created. Mkwa is tangible and easy to articulate. I want you think about what I wrote at the beginning, Grant was the first indigenous officer to work at GSPS. Today there are a number of indigenous members, both sworn and civilian. The community relations between the policing community and the indigenous community continue to build stronger ties and understanding. This in no small part is because of Grant.


The fact that both these men were recognized in the same week for something that began 30 years ago prompted this week’s thought. Both Performing Arts and Mkwa continue, which demonstrates that vision with purpose will continue and evolve. The power of leadership comes from building trust, modeling, commitment, hard work, being present, and heart. One of the characteristics I admire in both of these trailblazers is their work ethic. They laboured alongside others, so those working with them lived the authenticity of intent. You know what else was central to their character? Their love of family! The love is evident when they speak of their wives and children and for Joe this extends to his grandchildren. The love is evident when you see them together with their families. So maybe part of strong leadership is a connection to family because if you think of the work they both did, the seeds came from family and their roots.


Joe and Grant, thank you for the gifts of your time, expertise, courage, intention, and tenacity. We are all better off because of your willingness to take those steps of vulnerability and face the challenges.



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