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WHO AM I?

                    Gordon Coyne

When I look at who I am and where I have been, I can see that my life has evolved around a series of key turning points. I will mention just four of them, going backwards in time from the most recent to the earliest.

The most recent turning point occurred fifteen months ago when I purchased a condo here in Waterpark Place. With that move I was set to return to the City I had left 25 years earlier. Unfortunately, I would be returning home alone, as my wife of 54 years, Dorothy, had died a year earlier.

I felt I knew Waterloo well. King Street was still there. Erb Street and Bridgeport Road also. The handsome former Dominion Life building on Westmount  Road, now occupied by the Economical Insurance Group, looked very familiar too. That building was where I had spent my first 30 years in business.

Well I soon discovered I had overestimated my ability to fit comfortably into this exciting City. Two things soon went awry. In the first place I found that living in Mississauga for 16 years had prepared me poorly for driving in a city where roundabouts had sprouted up in many locations, propelling many drivers into remedial training mode. And the second thing that went off track was my misunderstanding about how many train stations Waterloo now had. Let me explain.

I had the good fortune, thanks to my long time friend and neighbor, Dave Oille, to attend a meeting of this Club as his guest just a few days after my arrival in town. Since I am seriously interested in hiking, you can imagine my sheer joy when I heard not once but twice at that meeting quote “the Walking Group will go out next Tuesday leaving at 9:30 from the train station: everyone is welcome”. That was the deal for me. Plus the fact it should be easy because a look out of my window revealed a very handsome train station half way between where I was living and King Street. The fact that it had a Paul Puncher sign on it I conveniently ignored. Well you can imagine the rest of the story. Turns out there is a new train station over near the Cloth and Clay Gallery; the Walking Group left from there. The joke was on me, and I had learned a good lesson once again “do your homework”.


So, those were just two little bumps in the road. Thankfully, I can say I am feeling very settled here once again, and totally happy I decided to return. The warm welcome I received from this Club did a lot to make the transition easy, and I thank you most sincerely for it.

The previous important turning point had happened about ten years earlier when I retired from business. For a total of seven years prior to that I had done member relations work for the Life Office Management Association, based in Atlanta, Georgia, and for the former Life Underwriters Association, based in Toronto. I had reached 65, and happily


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claimed my time as my own. All the usual possibilities were opened up, such as more travel, and more time to read books on interesting subjects that I had had no time for before. I also directed more time to the four C’s in my life….college, condo corporation, church and club.

As for college, it was payback time at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, which has generously granted me The Arbor Award for volunteer service; as for the condo corporation it was time to pull my weight by serving on the Board of Directors; as for church work, it was just the same old story….so much to be done, and so few hands to do it; and as for club life the time had finally come for me to join Probus. This had been on my bucket list for many years.

By this time I had moved from Toronto to Mississauga, where the Probus Club of Mississauga South had an open enrolment. You may wonder why I had been looking forward to joining a Probus Club? The answer is that I had heard so many glowing reports for so many years, a lot of them from friends sitting in this very room

today. I joined the executive of the Mississauga Club quickly because there was a vacancy at club auditor, and I wanted to get actively involved. In the next ten years I had the pleasure of taking on other executive roles, including President.

Now back to church affairs, in a weak moment I agreed to write a history of the first 50 years at Clarkson Road Presbyterian Church in Mississauga. That was bold indeed, as my wife and I were new members, and I had never written a book before. In the end it took the prize as the best new congregational history in that year. Since then, no more book writing.

Two other fine things happened to me as a result of having joined the church in Clarkson. It turned out there were three golfers who needed another to fill out a foursome. We are still going strong as a foursome a dozen years later. The other piece of athletic endeavor that fell into my lap through a chance encounter at the church was serious Bruce Trail hiking with an Oakville-based group. This gave me untold hours of joy and good exercise, and it led me to complete the Trail end-to-end. Many of my fellow hikers did the same thing. It also led me to do some very pleasant overseas hiking, namely in Scotland, Tuscany, and Ireland.

Being able to step up my volunteer activity in retirement led me to two things that have brought much pleasure. The first is the inevitable family tree research. Through this I made connection with my roots in County Limerick, Ireland, and with the United Empire Loyalist Branch on my family tree.


In addition, I have become a volunteer for the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association of Canada. This organization serves the needs of the few remaining veterans and their families, and provides educational materials.

Now to turning point # 3. This abrupt turning point in my life occurred when I was in my early fifties. At that point in time, I had been employed for thirty years at Dominion Life. I left the company in 1985 when it was sold to Manulife, and I mapped out my future in Toronto. In the beginning I worked in a new subsidiary of Canada Trust, called CT Investment Counsel. However, the life insurance business soon beckoned me back, so after two years I took a position as vice president of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. This Association acted as the principal lobbying group for all the life and health insurance companies in Canada, of which there were well over one hundred at that time. It also provided a lot of consumer information.

My work for this Association was followed by my being hired by Canada Life as Chief Executive for their large and long-established subsidiary in  Ireland.


Fairly quickly I packed up in Toronto, and began the process of integrating into the very active business scene in Dublin. One of the new friends I made there shortly after my arrival described me as having “drawn the winning ticket in the lottery of life”. He was right……Dublin was a most interesting city to put roots down in, and the Irish life insurance business was even more sophisticated than I had expected. I completed my posting and returned to Canada just as the Celtic Tiger was picking up speed.

There is no doubt about it, Ireland had a great run at picking money off the money tree. To see it today, however, would make you weep. As we have heard many times, the country has become a ward of the EU, property values have fallen by fifty percent, and there is a tide of young people leaving the country to seek employment in other parts of the world.

A personal example of the latter occurred as I was flying home from Dublin in late June of last year. There was a young couple sitting on my left who were emigrating to Toronto; also a young man sitting across the aisle who was doing the same; and a young couple who I spoke to as we were boarding the plane who were emigrating to Calgary. To use an old and familiar expression, I am sorry to say, “Ireland is on her knees”.

The turning point in my life that brought me to Waterloo in 1956 occurred as I was graduating from the University of Toronto, where I had earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree. My university years were well timed from the point of view of summer employment, as they coincided with the golden years at Avro Aircraft and Orenda Engines, located close to Brampton.

Coming to Waterloo, I started in the investment department of Dominion Life……eventually became Executive Assistant to the President……then Head of Corporate Services and Corporate Secretary, and finally Vice President Individual Marketing. I will cut short the details of those happy years.

In addition to growing my career in the life insurance business, Dorothy and I raised a family of three, and involved ourselves in community activities. Two of our three children now live in the United States. Some of the community activities that I became involved in were the Library Board, the Freeport Hospital Board, the K-W Symphony, where I was Treasurer, the YMCA Board, the Grand River Conservation Authority, and the Advisory Board of the University of Waterloo.

As for my earlier years, I was born in Brampton, Ontario in 1934. It was then a sleepy little town, known as the Flower Town of Canada. My part time job was in the hardware store where my father was manager. I played a variety of sports, as a result of which I have had a life-long interest in the game of lacrosse. I was delighted to discover that Waterloo has teams entered at both the Junior and Senior levels in the Ontario Lacrosse League; and that they conveniently play in this very building.

In conclusion, let me tell you who I am not. In response to a frequently asked question, let me say I am not related to “that banker guy from Ottawa”. By that expression the questioner usually means the former Governor of the Bank of Canada, James Coyne……and by extension, I am not related to his son Andrew.

Businesswise I have been in a few dustups myself, but nothing to compare with the dustup that James Coyne had in the late 1950’s with John Diefenbacher, Prime Minister, and Donald Fleming, Minister of Finance. Their very public battle over monetary policy was truly one for the ages, and it cost Jim Coyne his job. Canada has survived, of course, but neither Diefenbacher nor Fleming did for very much longer.

Gentlemen, that ends my story. Thank you for listening. Let’s hope Frank Sinatra had it right when he sang “the best is yet to come”. 

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