‘I was always the child who would challenge things’

Three York alumni were among the winners of the Top 40 Under 40 awards sponsored by Canadian executive search firm Caldwell Partners and awarded in Toronto May 6 (see also More News). They were featured in The Globe and Mail in a special section May 6.

York alumna Terrie-Lynne Devonish (BA ’92, LLB ’95) leaves no question unasked in her role as chief counsel of Aon Canada Inc. Guess nothing has changed since she was growing up in Toronto, the middle of three daughters of immigrant parents.

“Law is something my parents thought I would be good at when I was younger because I was always the child who would challenge things, and question and argue everything,” she says. “As I grew older, I also became interested in the law as a conduit to justice and as a means of helping people, whether at work or through volunteering.”

Since October, Devonish has been giving legal advice and guidance to all business units of Aon Canada, which provides risk management services, insurance brokerage and management consulting. “I very much enjoy the mix of law and business … and I hope to continue in a challenging legal role where I can be creative and make a difference, and add real value,” she says.

York alumnus Joe Johnson Jr. (LLB ’94) was a gung-ho, fledgling lawyer in Waterloo, Ont., when his father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996, wrote the Globe. But when he decided to take time off work to move to Barrie and help care for his father, he suddenly found himself with a whole new career plan.

The senior Johnson had started Joe Johnson Equipment Inc. in the mid-1980s as a distributor of maintenance equipment for public works projects and now he needed a succession plan, fast. “My dad, to my surprise when I got here, said, ‘If I’ve only got three months, I don’t want to be sitting behind a desk’,” Joe recalls his father saying. “So he threw the keys at me and said, ‘You’re the president’.”

While Johnson was young to be running a company – he was still in his 20s – he had a good foundation. His law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School proved invaluable in countless ways and because had been spent his time in practice representing municipalities, he understood the tendering process for a government department that needed, say, an industrial vacuum or a recycling vehicle or an ice resurfacer. And his father lived for more than two years after the diagnosis, giving him time to help Joe find his stride.

Alumna Pernille Ironside‘s house has a view of Lake Kivu, one of the Great Lakes of Africa that lies on the border of Congo, where she lives, and Rwanda. “When you’re overlooking the lake, you have such a sense of calmness and serenity,” says the Alberta native (LLB ’99) who moved to the Congolese city of Goma from New York two years ago after UNICEF assigned her the role of protection specialist in its Child Protection Section. “It’s such a contrast with what’s on the other side of the compound.”

What’s on the other side of her housing compound is the aftermath of almost a decade of conflict in Congo. More than four million people were killed, including women and children, many of whom were raped and tortured by both government soldiers and rebel fighters. As many as 30,000 children were also abducted from their homes and forced to join the army or rebel groups as fighters, sex slaves or camp workers, according to UNICEF.

Ironside is in Goma to help reclaim the lost children and reunite them with their families. Congo, the third-largest country in Africa, has negotiated a peace deal, and the army and various militia groups have agreed to “demobilize” and form a new army.

“The first month I arrived here, we separated more than 500 children from militia groups,” says Ironside, who has a degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. “That involved many days of continually going back to this huge military site way off in the boonies, always heavily escorted by UN armed troops.”

While she can claim credit for rescuing hundreds of children, she says it’s often difficult to feel victorious in the face of all that has happened in the country. “It’s toughest when I interview the children on a one-on-one basis, to hear the tiny voice explaining the horrific things that happened to them,” she says. “But it is also awe-inspiring to see how courageous they are, and so rewarding to see the relief and joy in their eyes when they realize they are coming into protective care.”

York student honoured for helping save a life

What started as a good deed on a ride home resulted in an award from the York Region police chief for one York student, wrote the North Bay Nugget May 6. Chad Mathieu, 19, was driving along Elgin Mill Road in Richmond Hill late on Oct. 25, when he saw a Chevrolet Avalanche drive into opposing traffic and hit a Toyota Camry.

“I had never even seen a car accident before,” said the second-year kinesiology student in York’s Faculty of Health. “It took a second for it to set in, what I saw, and then I sprung to life.”

Mathieu stopped, along with an off-duty tow truck driver, and called 911 on his cellphone. After making sure the driver of the truck was OK, Mathieu went to the car, and found the woman driver bleeding and trapped in the vehicle. As he asked emergency services to send an ambulance and a fire truck in order to assist removing the woman, he heard a loud popping noise from the truck and saw flames.

“I was choking on smoke because the wind was blowing our way,” Mathieu said. Mathieu and others tried to get the woman out of the car, which was sitting near the flaming truck. Working together, they managed to drag the car away, preventing the fire from spreading. “Whether we stopped the car from catching fire or not, I’ll never know, but I’m glad I stopped and helped anyway,” said Mathieu.

His parents were in Richmond Hill in March to watch him receive an award of recognition from the police department. Mathieu and the three other people who helped out that night were recognized for their quick actions that helped save a life.

Rich wage class war, not StatsCan

It’s easy to see why the National Post is nervous about information on rising inequality getting into the hands of ordinary Canadians, wrote Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig May 6 in a column about new StatsCan information on wage trends. Ordinary Canadians might also be interested to learn that in the post-war years of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, most Canadians experienced real increases in their incomes.

Neil Brooks, a tax professor in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, notes that during this era the share of income received by the richest 1 per cent actually declined – from about 20 per cent in the early part of the century to about 7 or 8 per cent by 1980. The rich didn’t like this and have been waging a kind of class war ever since, convincing governments to impose “neo-conservative” policies like lower minimum wages, tighter monetary policy, less social insurance protection, open markets and shifting the tax burden from capital to labour.

Sports Digest DJ brought rock ‘n’ roll to Toronto

Until the early 1960s, Philip Stone (BA ’87) remained as a rock jock at CHUM Radio, then became the vice-president of the station, responsible for promotions and charitable work, wrote the Toronto Star May 6 .

By the time he left the station in 1964, he was on the board of 45 different charities. He then founded his own public relations firm and, in 1972, started the radio program at Humber College. He also taught at York University and Kitchener’s Conestoga College. At age 73, he went back to school and got his bachelor of arts in English at York University’s Glendon College. “How he would like to be remembered is for helping people,” his son said. “He loved to help young people. There are thousands who benefited from his advice.”

  • The National Post also noted that Stone was a York alumnus in its obituary May 6.

Turning on the light to deal with their demons

York student Clara Locey was 15 and at summer school when she met the friends who introduced her to drugs and raves, wrote the Toronto Star May 6 in a story about six people who have battled addiction or mental illness and will receive Transforming Lives awards from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “I fell in love with the music scene,” says Locey, now 23. “I was very young and had no self-esteem.”

All in one year, she had a drug dealer boyfriend, progressed from ecstasy to crystal meth, dropped out of school, got beaten up and was sexually assaulted. After that, she sought drug treatment. Now a top student majoring in sociology at York University, she speaks to youth about her experiences. “I learned what it means to respect yourself,” she says.

Atkinson professor to speak at forum on youth homelessness

Professor Stephanie Baker Collins, of the School of Social Work in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, will highlight the Niagara Homelessness Employment Access report, which concludes that many homeless adults had first become homeless as a teen and that the cycle has continued, wrote the Welland Tribune May 6. Collins will be speaking at an open forum on the Fort Erie and Port Colborne areas’ housing problems being held at the regional council chambers in Thorold, Ont., May 27.

York uses author’s book in Women’s Bridging Program

Former resident Sarah Burns recently flogged her debut novel, Jackfish, The Vanishing Village, on home turf, wrote the Sault Star May 6. The novel, which depicts a woman’s efforts to overcome lifelong depression and guilt, is set in the historical village of Jackfish, Ont., which once stood on Lake Superior’s shore but is now a ghost town.

Jackfish has been nominated for both the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Canadian Authors Association Award for Adult Literature. The book has also been adopted by York University’s School of Women’s Studies in the Faculty of Arts for its Bridging Program for Women, which helps give women who have been out of school for two or more years the confidence to pursue higher education.

On air

  • Jacinthe Michaud, professor in York’s School of Women’s Studies, spoke about cross-dressing men on TFO-TV’s “Panorama” May 5.