His late Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Excerpt from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
His late Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Hon. Marty Deacon rose pursuant to notice of Senator Gagné on April 20, 2021:
That she will call the attention of the Senate to the life of His late Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
She said: Honourable senators, it’s an honour and with a smile that I rise to pay tribute to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth and the longest-serving royal consort in British history. If I’m seeking light, in and amongst our challenging times, thinking about the Duke of Edinburgh makes me smile.
We’ve touched on some weighty issues recently in the chamber, so I’m excited to contribute to these celebrations of a life well lived today.
In my career, I was lucky enough to meet Prince Philip on a few occasions. My first meeting, the most memorable, was in 1994. I can tell you the exact time. It was 3:55 p.m. I was in Victoria, British Columbia, coaching my first Commonwealth Games. These games were noteworthy because South Africa had recently returned to the Commonwealth Games to mark the end of apartheid, and Hong Kong was soon to leave. I share this because there were more international political dignitaries than usual.
The time of the day was important because it was my responsibility to submit our written and signed team lineup for the team medal round of these games. There was no internet or email yet, so these needed to be delivered by hand to a small sports office in the athletes’ village by 4 p.m. exactly. Failure to do so would result in team disqualification.
As I went racing to get them in, the door to the sports office was closed with a barricade of sorts. With some desperation, I knocked somewhat vigorously and enthusiastically on the door. Fortunately, the door opened. I looked up in the glare of the sun to see it was the Duke. He was standing a few paces back and said to me with a sparkle in his eye, “I think this lady from Canada needs some assistance.” What I did not know at the time, of course, was that the Queen, the Duke and Prince Edward were receiving a tour of the building as part of their VIP athletes’ village tour. In front of me was a large national contingent of VIP guests, all so beautifully dressed. I was not.
My first instinct was to crawl into the corner. I tried to straighten up. I thought it might be appropriate to curtsy — anything to acknowledge them with respect as I looked about. Fortunately, their host, Mr. Robert Fergus, knew me. He introduced me with a bit of a smile and said, “Perhaps Ms. Deacon can tell you through her coaching experience the important role this office and the volunteers provide at every Commonwealth and Olympic Games.”
Though I was a little tongue-tied, I was able to describe the complexity and the needs of each sport, the importance of the Commonwealth and the many volunteers that work to put it together. It was here that I learned more about the Duke’s great interest in Canada, his own fitness in sport, in carriage racing, the outdoors and certainly in building up our young people.
It was also at this time that I noticed the Duke of Edinburgh would carry a certain stance, always a few feet behind the Queen, usually a left shoulder slightly forward with one leg bent, as if to provide the space demanded by protocol while always being engaged and aware of what was going on.
We met again a few days later in a more formal environment and carried on our conversation. We talked about the importance of finally having para athletes for the first time at the Commonwealth Games and how important it was to ensure more gender equity and diversity in sport. One thing that stayed with me from those first conversations, all of these years later, is that leadership and knowledge is not always found in the front row.
The Commonwealth and Olympic Games provided me with several more opportunities to carry on our conversations. When the opportunity arose, I always tried to make sure, within protocol, that our young athletes had a chance, after visiting with the Queen, to speak with Prince Philip directly. He loved talking to young people. He would use this opportunity to describe in detail, and with a spark in his eye, his own fitness regime, which he credits to and took from the Royal Canadian Air Force many decades earlier.
What was clear to me in those lucky instances was that Prince Philip placed a keen emphasis on physical fitness and well-being. It was a message he delivered in our country early and often.
As far back as 1959, he used his reception speech at the first meeting of the Canadian Medical Association at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto to encourage Canadians to improve their fitness and mental well-being. To the chagrin of many doctors in attendance, he spoke candidly about the state of health and activity in Canada, which he thought could use some good improvement. He said four things would be necessary to improve the situation: proper physical education in schools; adequate recreational facilities for all ages and sections of the community; an extension of the work of youth organizations in both scope and age; and finally, an organization to promote recreational sports and encourage people to take part.
That was 1959. These are admirable and achievable goals still to this very day.
In our conversations, Prince Philip was also often keen to share his passion and commitment to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Awards. It was a program I became very familiar with over the course of my career as an educator. In this program, students are challenged to reach their goals in four areas of the program: community service, skills, physical recreation and adventurous journey. I always loved listening to students use the term “adventurous journey,” knowing how important those words were to the Duke of Edinburgh.
I spoke recently to one former student named Fiona who described her adventurous journey as doing a multiple-day bike trip with her mother in rural Ontario while camping along the way, something she may not otherwise have done. She particularly loved the flexibility of the program, which allows participants to cater to their interests.
Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario, has built the Duke of Edinburgh Awards into a curricular program called Choose To Lead. I had the privilege to meet and listen to many students in this program. I’m in awe of their passion and the difference they’re going to make throughout their lives. This program had a bronze, silver and gold level to strive for. The ultimate honour was to achieve the gold level, which resulted in meeting Prince Philip or another member of the Royal Family.
We thank Prince Philip for his important legacy and will always remember his compassion and commitment to his family and sense of humour. Thank you. Meegwetch.