One Person Can Make a Difference

One Person Can Make a Difference

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

One Person Can Make a Difference

If a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate, and do it.

Edgar Watson Howe

It was the first weekend in June 1985, and I was conducting a weekend seminar at Deerhurst Lodge in Muskoka. Late that Friday afternoon, a tornado swept through the town of Barrie, killing dozens of people and doing millions of dollars worth of damage. On the Sunday night as I was driving back to Toronto down Highway 400, I stopped when I got to Barrie. I got out of the car, about where the Holiday Inn is, to have a good look. The destruction was incredible—it was an absolute mess. There were cars upside down, smashed houses, and many buildings torn apart. I’d never seen anything like it.

Well, the same night, Bob Templeton was driving down the 400 from a fishing trip on the French River. Bob was vice president of Telemedia Communications, which owned a string of radio stations in Ontario and Québec. While at the fishing camp, Bob had heard about the tornado. When he got to Barrie, he also got out of his car, stunned by the devastation. Up on the hill, he saw a house that looked as if a sickle had sliced right through it. The back was totally gone, and in the other half, a picture still hung on the wall. Just a few feet were between total disaster and nothing. Bob only lived about thirty kilometres away in Aurora. Waiting at home for him were his wife and three small children. They were his whole world. My gosh, he thought, that could have been my home.

On the radio, they were appealing for people to come out and help clean up the mess. The whole thing disturbed Bob enormously. He really wanted to do something to help, but felt that lugging bricks or writing a cheque was just not enough. There has to be something we can do for these people with our string of radio stations, he thought.

The following night, he and another vice president with Telemedia came in and stood at the back of the room to evaluate a seminar I was doing to see if he wanted me to work with his company. During my presentation, Bob got an idea and after the seminar, the three of us went back to his office. He knew if you can visualize something, and really believe it and attach to it emotionally, wonderful things can happen. He was now excited and committed to the idea of doing something for the people of Barrie.

The next day he went to see the president and CEO of Telemedia, a marvellous man with a huge heart. When Bob told him his idea, he was given carte blanche with the company to make it happen. He put together a team, and the following Friday he hosted a meeting. He told them he wanted to use the awesome power they had right across Canada, and create something that could raise a serious amount of money.

Bob took a flip chart, and wrote three “3s” on the top. And then he said to all these executives, “How would you like to raise three million dollars in three hours, three days from now, and give it to the people in Barrie?”

Now they were acutely aware of the situation because their own radio station had been broadcasting it every few minutes. At first, they all said, “Templeton, you’re crazy, you couldn’t raise three million in three hours in three months from now, let alone in three days from now!” And Bob said, “Now wait a minute, I didn’t ask you if we could, or even if we should. I asked ‘Would you like to?’”

So he said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it.” Under the three 3s he drew a line, and then he put a line right down the centre of the flip chart. On the left side of this “t” he wrote, “Why We Can’t,” and on the other side he wrote, “How We Can.” Underneath ‘Why We Can’t,’ he put a big “X”. Then he said, “Every time an idea comes of why we can’t do it, we’re not going to spend any time on it. That’s of no value. We’re simply going to say, ‘Next!’ and we’re going to spend the next few hours concentrating on how we can do this. And we’re not going to leave the room until we have it figured out.”

At first he didn’t get much cooperation. And then somebody said, “We can have a radiothon right across Canada.” So he wrote that down, under “How We Can”, and then somebody else said, “We can’t do that—we don’t have radio stations right across Canada!”

Well, someone in the back of the room quietly said, “Next!” And Bob said, “No, a radiothon is a good idea— that will stand.” Once they started buying into the process, it was magical. The creativity that began flowing from these broadcasters was really something to see. At that time, they had the sports rights for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays, and the people from that wing of Telemedia said, “We can get you the celebrities and the hockey players!” Somebody else was in network broadcasting and had contacts all across the country. Once they were locked into it, it was amazing how fast and furiously the ideas kept coming. The project took off like a brush fire!

Then someone said, “We could get Harvey Kirk and Lloyd Robertson, the biggest names in Canadian broadcasting, to anchor the show.” Someone else replied, “We’ll never get these guys to anchor the show; they’re anchors on national television. They’re not going to work on radio!”

And then a few of them said all together, “Next!”

So they put the thing together. Radio stations rarely work together; they’re extremely competitive, and they’re very cutthroat in every market. But somehow they got fifty radio stations across Canada to participate, based on the idea that it didn’t matter who got the credit, as long as the people in Barrie got the money. The following Tuesday, they had a radiothon that went right across Canada. And yes, Harvey Kirk and Lloyd Robertson anchored it—on the radio. The dynamic duo had been apart for a number of years, but Bob and his team reunited them. When asked, they both responded “Absolutely, count on me.”

Many legendary Canadian performers were asked to participate, and each one said, “I’ll be there,” “Count on me.” If they were in town, they were there. One after the other they showed up at the station, and Lloyd and Harvey would talk with them about the tornado, and about their experiences living in the area. Some were on tour and phoned in from wherever they were. A lot of them were from the Toronto area, and of course, they were all shocked. It was kind of like, “This is something that happens in Kansas, not in our backyard!” It was very emotional.

The radiothon drew a huge audience. Lloyd and Harvey received nothing for their efforts; it was all out of the generosity of their hearts. But they raised the three million in three hours, three days after they began.

Back then, those homes were worth about 100 thousand dollars each. So Bob and his team like to think that instead of each of them writing a cheque to help out, they built thirty homes! Bob told me how very proud he is of being part of that effort. Obviously, he couldn’t have done it alone. But one idea by one person, with the right people buying into it, can have dramatic and magical effects and produce something of greatness!

Bob Proctor
Willowdale, Ontario
with Bob Templeton
Halifax, Nova Scotia

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