It seems we love Fergy Brown.
He was a pharmacist, is a veteran of the Second World War, was the mayor of York and the former chair of Social Services on the Metro Council; he also is, and has been, a member of more boards and volunteer agencies than I have room for here.
But credit is sometimes due, and so Fergy was honoured recently at a celebration marking the 35th anniversary of the Learning Enrichment Foundation.
Its driving force was the late Eunice Grayson, a public health nurse who noticed that her patients needed to learn English, so she set up language classes; they needed child care, so she furnished a room and found staff; they needed lunch, so she established a kitchen; and they needed jobs once they had learned English, so she turned the kitchen and the day care into certificate-granting programs.
The LEF is now a $ 16 million a year operation with some 500 clients and dozens upon dozens of training programs.
The work continues organically. I noticed a bunch of old bicycles in the back when I arrived. Turns out the LEF trains young people in bicycle repair and maintenance; more to the point, it also has a deal to maintain the BIXI bikes you see here and there around town. Which is what I like about LEF — where they see a need, they find a way to train people for jobs.
He was a president of the LEF, and has served on its board for more than 30 years; way back when, he helped Eunice move the operation into what was once a munitions factory on Industry Rd.
No munitions in sight now, but plenty of flowers, wine and cheese, and a podium for speeches.
When they were introduced — their names were Tonks, Colle, Saundercook, Lindsay Luby, Holyday, Mihevc, various Nunziatas, DiGiorgio, Albanese, Sullivan and so on — Fergy cast a deadpan glance around the room and muttered, “We’ll be here all day.”
All the speakers ended by saying they loved Fergy, which is memorable, but this is remarkable:
Mike Colle said, “Fergy stood for people who needed a hand . . . he had the biggest heart at Metro Council. He stood strong and tall for the less fortunate, and was not afraid to take on those who wouldn’t help.”
Let me underscore:
Fergy Brown is a Conservative, and yet his views on social housing, seniors, single mothers, the poor and the working poor are as progressive as anyone you can name on the left today, never mind the right.
None like him any more.
And when it was his turn to speak his voice boomed, as if summoned from the memory of hustings past:
“Can you hear me?” We laughed and said we could.
He said, “You talk about leadership . . . I never gave much leadership. I gave support.”
In the end, he said he loved us all.