Call him a legend. An icon. A superstar.
But the reality is, Gord Lightfoot never thought of himself as any of those things. “I’m just a guy from Orillia,” he’d say.
And now he’s left us.
At age 84, Gordon Lightfoot passed away yesterday.
I’ve been listening to the accolades and stories on the radio about this troubadour from those who knew him, or claim to have known him. Which brought to mind my own encounter. No, not as drinking buddies or at a concert lining up for autographs. This was decidedly different: we were two guys watching our kids play floor hockey.
Let me explain.
Back in the day, in Toronto, my two young sons Charlie and Jamie enjoyed the sport of floor hockey. It was played mornings in the school gymnasium. Now, in order to get access to the gym, the team had to play at 7am. Having been a “ morning man” at the radio station where I worked years before, I was used to waking up when the world was still dark. And so, I’d get the boys their breakfast and we’d hop in the car to make our way to school. (BTW, the nice thing about driving in Toronto at that hour: very little traffic!) The boys would head in to put their books and lunches aside, change and head to the gym. And I always ventured into the gym as well, grabbing a chair and hanging out to watch. What the heck: I was there anyway and I always enjoyed seeing my boys play sports. I think there may have been one time where another parent was present, but typically, I would be on my own, sitting at the end of the gym, watching.
Well, one fine morning, who should walk in but Gordon Lightfoot. I recognized him immediately. I knew the man lived nearby, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised his kids went to the same school. Now, I don’t know if it was the early hour or the impact of substances, but he looked a little “uneven”. Anyway, he ventured over to the chairs near to where I was ensconced, sat down, drank from a coffee cup, and watched the game unfolding. Never said a word to me and I, being the respectful guy I am, didn’t bother him either.
This went on for three mornings, neither of us so much as acknowledging the other guy. Until one day he ventured in and saw me there again. This time he nodded, said “Hi” and then focused on the game and his coffee. I replied “Hi”, and that was that.
Then, a couple of mornings later, when Gord walked in, I mentioned something about a new coach (teacher) being in place. This apparently took him by surprise and he asked me “Why?” I won’t bore you here with the reason, but I did share it with Gord and that seemed to satisfy him. And it was at that moment the ice was broken. From there, I guess he realized I wasn’t some groupie or an autograph hound, and over the days we went on to talk about our kids, their abilities, the town of Orillia (where he hailed from and where I visited often) and more. It was fun, and you know, there was a quality about him even then that here was a guy whose thoughts could be pretty inspiring.
Never saw Gord again after floor hockey season ended.
And I certainly can’t claim he was a friend, as so many are now doing. Yet, we did share some lovely moments as parents that I won’t soon forget.
Gordon Lightfoot was surely a marvellous songwriter and performer. We’ll miss him. But we Canucks can be proud he was one of us.
Rest easy Gord… it was a pleasure spending time with you.
Did you know that the 4th Thursday of every April is "Take Your Daughter To Work Day"?
I can’t look at this event without recalling Ruth Lowe, one of the earliest female ground breakers, who wrote the song in 1939 that kicked off Frank Sinatra’s amazing singing career, “I’ll Never Smile Again”. She also wrote Sinatra’s theme song “Put Your Dreams Away” and nearly 50 other songs for Hollywood and Broadway. But here’s what’s amazing: Ruth accomplished all this in what was very much a man’s world: Tin Pan Alley, that assembly of songwriters in New York City who composed the popular music of the 20th century. Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Vernon Duke… the list goes on and on with hundreds of entries, virtually all the songwriters being male, most of them writing in teams as well. But then there was Ruth Lowe, a single female writing both lyrics and melody to “I’ll Never Smile Again” (putting her alongside Irving Berlin and Cole Porter as two gifted tunesmiths who scored with both the words and music). You’d be hard put to call up more names of female song writers who worked in Tin Pan Alley back then, managing to shatter the glass ceiling the way Ruth did.
I’m pleased to have been selected to write about the fascinating life of Ruth Lowe in my book “Until I Smile St You” (untilismileatyou.com). And I’m pumped that plans are well underway to turn this into a major feature film.
So, as you consider “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”, think about Ruth Lowe, who never let her gender nor good looks get in the way of a stellar career.
This Saturday, April 29th, is Canadian Independent Bookstore Day. This is the time where readers and industry professionals celebrate indie bookstores across the country, recognizing the hard work of booksellers. After all, they are the heart and soul of the publishing industry. And just in case you think Canadians aren't buying books, you ought to know that in 2022, almost 52 million physical books — worth $1.1 billion — were sold in Canada.
So, as a Canadian author of 10 books and counting, may I ask that you consider buying your next book directly from your favorite local book store? They’ll sure appreciate it. And so will I.
I ran a marketing agency for most of my career in which we produced advertising plus lots of other corporate communications activities. I was proud to be in that industry. But today, my pride is withering.
Well, most people know that the famed interviewer Larry King died a few years back (it was in 2021). And yet, people get mail from him today stressing the need to take the pills he endorses to handle prostrate supplements. The letter quotes Larry stating the pills have “changed his life”:. Yeah… maybe changed it to having no life at all? Don’t the marketers promoting this product realize we know Larry ain’t here no more!! Seriously!
And then there’s a full page "How dare you" ad in this weekend’s Globe and Mail signed by Col. Harlan Sanders – that’s Col Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame – complaining that KFC is selling their chicken too cheaply. Sure. OK. But Harland Sanders died in 1980!! That’s 43 years ago!! And you know what: I think most people know that. Not necessarily the date he died, but ask folks and they’ll tell you the guy’s been 6 feet under for some time.
Don’t know about you, but when a company wants me to buy their product or service, and then treats me like a moron, I’ll turn my back on ‘em right away.
It was Norman Peale, in his book, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, who popularized the concept of “any action is better than no action at all”. The controversial clergyman argued that, “Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.”
It’s an intriguing thought, the lack of action resulting from fear. So, when I asked Jack Canfield, famed author of the hugely successful “Chicken Soup For The Soul” publications, to write the foreword for my book “Pushing The Boundaries” (https://www.pushingtheboundaries.life), I knew he’d address this fact. Jack asked, “What is it about successful people who have pushed beyond boundaries to succeed that makes them unique?” For Jack, the answer is this: they have the confidence and the courage to take risks in order to get ahead.
I think patience is another great quality that works in this context. It’s patience that creates confidence, decisiveness, and a rational outlook, which eventually leads to success. It’s impatience that breeds anxiety, fear, discouragement and failure. So, when Jack asked, “Are you ready to take chances to achieve your goals? Or is fear standing in your way?”, he didn’t talk about anxiety, discouragement and failure, but focused on fear. “Fear is the single biggest thing that holds us back,” he wrote. “Unless you can step past that fear, you’ll just end up playing it safe and avoid trying new things. And that means it’s unlikely you’ll ever fulfill the dream most of us have of living a more rewarding life. But remember this: fear is all about what might happen, not what will happen. And even more importantly, all your fears are self-created by your imagining a negative outcome. You have the power within you to overcome that fear by using the same power of imagination to envision the positive outcome you want, and then take the kind of calculated risks that can lead to success.”
Jack tells people that everything they want that they don’t already have is just on the other side of fear. “Having the conviction to reach beyond your fears and take chances means you’re ready to achieve lasting success,” he says. And frankly, he confesses that unless he was willing to do just that himself, he’d still be teaching history in a Chicago high school rather than running a multimillion-dollar enterprise as he does today.
One other quick thought on this subject. I’ve recently been asking people I come into contact with, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The reaction is, typically, one of surprise: folks just aren’t used to others wanting to help them out of the blue. But I think it’s important for those of us with means to offer assistance to those who may be lacking such benefits. And when people realize my offer is real, with no strings attached, whether they take up the proposition or not, there is genuine pleasure expressed that another person might consider their plight in life.
Try it sometime: I think you’ll be pleased with the result.
Did you know that April 17 is National Volunteer Week?
This brings to mind that those of us who volunteer our time or talents are actually happier people, just one of the facts I learned when writing my most recent book “Being Happy Matters” which will be published soon (beinghappymatters.life). I interviewed 37 people from around the world and discovered that we are each accountable for our own happiness. In fact, we have the power to choose happiness for ourselves by controlling how we feel.
I also discovered there are things all of us can do to increase happiness in our daily lives, such as…
Hang out with happy people: it's contagious; absorb their habits to become happier.
Be loving: you'll get love back.
Happiness grows when you engage in the things you love to do.
Be grateful: focus on what you have, not on what you don't have.
Enjoy normalcy: take pleasure in the ordinary things in life.
Simplify! Practice saying “No” to others to create time for yourself.
Learn how not to take stuff personally: a sense of humour is an incredible skill for happiness.
I hope that helps if you are seeking greater happiness in your life.
If you follow this blog at all or visit my website, you’ll know I’ve chosen to help raise funds to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS and colloquially as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It’s an illness that weakens muscles and can even cause changes in behaviour and thinking. The effects of ALS grow more severe over time and eventually become fatal: the average survival for someone diagnosed is 3 years. There is no cure. Yet.
In the quest to discover effective treatments for ALS, researchers have long faced a significant challenge: the lack of a widely accessible, shared source of data from people living with the disease. But today, my friends at ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) have revealed some exciting news: the launch of an ambitious global initiative to significantly accelerate the discovery of treatments. It’s called ARC (ALS Research Collaborative) and will allow researchers to answer complex questions – which have the potential to lead to transformative ALS treatments – in a matter of minutes.
Want to know more. Click here:
And if you can join me in donating to end this terrible disease, please do so here:
Many of the people I interviewed for my new book “Being Happy Matters” (beinghappymatters.life) told me that health – or more particularly, the ability to enjoy good health – has a great influence on personal happiness.
Well, we don’t always get to control our health totally, but we do get to manage our happiness.
Cheryl Wright is a lady who knows this all too well.
I interviewed Cheryl as she sat at home in Dingley Village, an outer suburb of Melbourne, Australia. In her 50s, 5’7” with brown hair, she’s a lady who’s comfortable in her own skin.
“I’m very laid back,” she told me. Sitting on her back deck overlooking the garden and enjoying an iced chocolate (she declares with a smile, “It’s my only vice. I don’t drink, smoke, take drugs – except by prescription – or gamble), Cheryl told me, “I’m not ecstatically happy, but I’m not miserable either. And it doesn’t take a lot for me to be over the moon.”
Think about that statement for a moment. And then, put it into context as you listen to Cheryl describe her life.
“I have a lung condition called Bronchiectasis,” she explains. “It’s from contracting measles as a one-year-old. Basically my airways don’t open properly which causes recurrent infections. It’s a bit yucky to describe, but bottom line is the mucus can’t be expelled properly. It’s in the same family as Cystic Fibrosis. But it isn’t usually a death sentence like CF.”
Birds and pelicans dot the sky from the nearby waterway as she speaks. I’m rendered somewhat speechless since, as the reality of her condition confronts me, I’m fascinated by how Cheryl can rate herself so high in the happiness department. But then I realize her description is not finished.
“As a result of the Bronchiectasis, I have a major immune deficiency,” she continues. “That means pneumonia is my enemy. One year I had five pneumonias in six months and ended up in the intensive care unit, in a wheelchair, and on oxygen. My immune system works at one third of normal, and I have a transfusion every four weeks to boost it. I’ve been doing that for the last several years and will continue doing so for the rest of my life.”
My head is spinning. I count my lucky stars for being the healthy specimen I am. But then Cheryl reveals why this sentence that she endures has led to a state of contentment. “When you’ve had a brush or two with death, life takes on a very precious quality. As a baby, I nearly died after someone flicked their cigarette ash in my cot and started a fire. Later on, many years ago, I was told by doctors I’d be dead in six months. So what did I do? I made sure I wasn’t. I was 43 at the time, and had six grandchildren who were all four and under. I wasn’t about to give in. My parents had a motto that if you tried, even if you failed, you succeeded, simply because you did try. I’ve carried that philosophy throughout my life.”
Indeed, a great philosophy: If you try, even if you fail, you succeed, simply because you did try. The reality is, however, that the positivism of Cheryl’s parents failed to support them in their own lives: each died from lung cancer. And further illustrating how good health is not always ours to control, Cheryl tells me that her brother was born with Spina Bifida, a challenge to the whole family (she has a sister as well), and one that brought with it a great deal of strain for everyone. Sadly, he died at age 12.
Amazingly, through all of this, her well-being – or lack of it – does not seem to impact her ability to be happy. “My health is shot to pieces,” she explains. “This lung disease is slowly progressing over time. Believe me, if health was the deciding factor for happiness, I’d be out of the running!”
I’m about to ask a follow-up question when Cheryl recalls an “ingredient” she feels is relevant to her life. “Hubby and I are bringing up three of our six grandchildren who were victims of domestic violence. One has post-traumatic stress disorder, one has anxiety and the other depression. They are aged 11, 9, and 8.”
“Cheryl, hold on!” I’m almost begging her to stop, so taken aback at the level of misfortune I’m learning about. “Look at what you’ve just shared with me. Omigosh, your life, for some people… it would be considered absolutely gruesome.” She nods in agreement. “Yet something keeps you smiling, Cheryl. What is it that finally does the trick for you?”
“A lot seems to boil down to state of mind,” she tells me calmly. “If you allow yourself to be dragged down, you will suffer as a result. I believe relationships play a big part in happiness. If, for instance, your marriage is on the rocks, you would probably be very unhappy. If those around you are unhappy, you will also be dragged down to their level. Keeping yourself positive – even in adverse situations – can play a big part in happiness.”
Think about that. I mean, the simplicity of the thought: “A lot seems to boil down to state of mind. If you allow yourself to be dragged down, you will suffer as a result. Keeping yourself positive – even in adverse situations – can play a big part in happiness.”
You can read more about Cheryl Wright in “Being Happy Matters” (this is the soon-to-be-published, updated version of my former book, “Why Being Happy Matters”). But the takeaway is that mind-over-matter, that key attitude that can affect so much of what we do and who we are, is an answer that’s free to anyone wanting to put forth a bit of effort in sustaining happiness.