By: Julie Lindhout
It was a sad day for Canada when the Honourable Bill Graham retired from elected politics although he continued to contribute in other ways. It was an even sadder day on Monday when he passed away and his wise counsel has been silenced, although there is still good advice to be found in his book The Call of the World which he wrote after retiring, and a lot of that advice will likely stand the test of time.
Others have commented on his important contributions to Canada’s foreign and defence policies, so I will concentrate more on what he meant to the NATO Association of Canada.
He was an amazingly effective politician with some important skills that appear to be in short supply among the current political class. He had the ability and willingness to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to anyone he spoke to from young people to senior constituents. He addressed their concerns with reasoned arguments rather than government issued talking points even when he did not agree with the speakers, but it was always in a polite and considerate way that left the speakers feeling that their concerns had really been heard.
I had the great pleasure of being the President and CEO of the NATO Association of Canada, then known as The Atlantic Council of Canada, during the entire time of Bill’s chairmanship. He was very knowledgeable about NATO and Canada’s role in it, and most supportive of the Council’s efforts to inform the Canadian public about the importance of NATO.
He was particularly interested in informing young people and was most supportive of our internship program, a feeling that was certainly reciprocated by our interns. He hosted each new group of interns for lunch. I enjoyed sitting back and listening to the conversations as he gently probed their backgrounds and their opinions on issues of the day. He tried to promote them at various opportunities and was interested in both their short- and long-term plans for their lives.
It was during this time that the Association changed from a barely online organization to fully online, making information available across the country. Some of the interns took care of the administrative and technical details while most of the others researched, wrote and posted short and timely articles on an almost daily basis.
I found Bill easy to discuss the issues of the day with, whether it was Council business or broader issues. He was always ready to provide good advice. He was extremely knowledgeable about both domestic and foreign affairs and felt that Canada as a trading nation needed to pay attention to both areas. He made a point of saying that while Canada has enormous natural and manufacturing and service resources, it needs strong and secure trading partners because the Canadian economy by itself is not large enough to consume enough products.
He was extremely helpful in planning conferences and seminars, making suggestions for defining the topics and for the right speakers to address them. He was always willing to make phone calls or send letters to invite speakers. His opening remarks were informative about the topics and really set the tone for the rest of the events.
The Honourable Bill Graham had a national and international gravitas and Cabinet presence that has been rarely seen in Canada since his time.
On a more personal note, Bill and I shared some conditions that may have helped us understand each other more easily. In addition to a common interest in NATO, we both came from families of the same size although I was the oldest in mine while he was youngest in his, and we agreed that ultimately that made a difference. We both learned that we had to be strategic but in different ways. What made our backgrounds similar was that we had a strong sense of community starting with our immediate families and expanding through the extended families to the broader community. We learned early in our lives that our actions have consequences for others and we learned to act accordingly.
The other feature was that we shared a wedding anniversary date, and we reminded each other every year of how thankful we were of our long and happy marriages to our respective, supportive spouses. My husband, Cornelis, passed away in 2021. I know what Cathy is experiencing now, but just as I have been comforted by the many happy memories I have, I pray that Cathy, and her children, Cathy and Patrick and their families may be comforted by their memories of happy events and great conversations.
I send my condolences to them all.
Photo: “Hon. Bill Grahams speech at the NATO Associations 50th Anniversary Gala” (June 20, 2016), by NATO Association via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0