On Monday when I read a note from Purdy's family saying that he had been moved to palliative care, I was hopeful that in the next few weeks I could visit Purdy in Toronto and tell him some tales of our students that he so loved to hear. Alas,that was not to be. This morning is one of those "perfect" mid-August early mornings in Nova Scotia. As is my want, I enjoy early morning walks. Usually I choose a topic, an issue, a problem to think through for the day. This morning my mind was filled with thoughts of Purdy. Corporate icon, a leading legal mind, strategist; all terms I have heard commentators use to describe Purdy on newscasts. All of course are true. However, I also had the opportunity to work closely with Purdy during the past five years and offer some more personal insights of a great man….
When Purdy talked to you, he talked to YOU. There were no distractions, and then there were the eyes… keenly intelligent, quick to smile and bore into your innermost thoughts. He enjoyed intelligent conversation and debate. I was fortunate enough to be seated with Purdy and his wife Bea and seven other guests at a gala dinner in Toronto to recognize the induction of Joe Shannon into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame. Purdy was a guest at the dinner having been inducted years before, and when it was announced he was in the room, this room of 1000 rose as one in a standing ovation. Business leader after business leader came to our table to chat with Purdy. It was clear I was sitting with Canadian Business Royalty.
Purdy took great pains to choose who would sit at his table and who would sit next to whom. As we were seated, Purdy, holding court so to speak, gave us the rules of the table. He was going to present a topic to us and we each had two minutes to respond and then general discusion and debate would ensue. No pressure there!! As we launched into our opening "presentations" Purdy, crossed his arms, sat back with a contented smile on his face and observed. He LOVED discussion and debate.
Purdy always asked me about Jane and the boys. When I told him about a camping adventure we had at the provincial campsite in Five Islands, just meters away from his homestead, he delighted in the details of us walking out in the mud, racing back before the tide turned and battling the gales roaring in from the Bay of Fundy. He was particularly delighted when I told him how Adam and Matthew were amazed to see fishing boats lying on their side in the mud and then to return to see them floating at eye level. For us it was mystical and pure magic. For Purdy we made a connection to his childhood and he never missed an opportunity to ask how our boys were doing.
I often thought, what a grandfather! I saw this characteristic time and again with the Aboriginal Youth in our Mentorship program. Purdy, having been honoured as a Chieftain of Membertou as Chief Rising Tide, was aply named. With a nod to those world record tides of his homestead which lift all boats, Purdy, by nature, saw his role to mentor, to guide, to encourage and to lift people to heights which they perhaps did not think possible. He was engaged with the work of his namesake Chair, keenly interested in the personal stories of each of the young people in the program and was totally committed to seeing that in whatever ways possible, we would work to lift people to achieve their dreams.
A great loss, an incredible legacy, a great man. Thank you, Wela'lin, Chief Rising Tide.