The day after the cancellation of the Christmas Parade was announced, Bob Cheriton resigned after almost two decades as one of the organizers of the popular event.
He has decided it’s time to step back from the parade committee, and let others with new ideas step forward.
He has been reflecting on resigning “for a very long time,” he says, and with the cancellation of the 2020 event, this became the right time to do it.
Although his resignation is influenced to some degree by his own health, with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that he’s been battling for almost five years, there was more behind his decision than that.
When he joined the committee, it was at the request of his long-time friend Bruce Pospiech, who was its chair for 30 years, Cheriton says. “I’ve known him since 1966. He was the best man at my wedding.”
Pospiech died in April, 2019, and Cheriton says his decision has a lot to do with the loss of his friend.
In May, 2019, Cheriton lost another dear friend, John Fryer, who was also a dedicated member of the parade committee, over the years putting together a group of more than 30 volunteers to make it run smoothly.
More recently, the death of Dennis Dick, another long-time committee member, has also left a huge hole to fill.
“I came to know Dennis quite well, and I really admired his commitment to the community. All of us would have thought I’d be the first one to go, but it didn’t work that way. That makes you reflect.”
The 2020 parade, had it occurred, would have been Cheriton’s 20th handling communication for the committee, and that also gave him cause for reflection, he says.
“I think it’s time to step back and let others come in with some new ideas. It’s time for some new people. This is the parade evolving,” he says.
He says his decision was influenced in part by the fact that he doesn’t know how many years he has left himself, and wants to spend more of them with family.
“This is a good time to do that. It allows for lots of time to get new volunteers on board and rejuvenate the committee. For me, this feels like the right time. I’ll still miss it. I’ll miss the people and I’ll miss the parade itself. But it’s time.”
The event is in good shape financially, for those who take it over, although the committee had intended to do some fundraising to “create a new ride for Santa this year.”
Then COVID hit, and that was put on hold.
The committee had been considering cancelling the event before their discussion with Lord Mayor Betty Disero, “and it was an obvious decision, not a difficult decision, but still painful.” The parade attracts a lot of people, and it would be difficult to enforce physical distancing or mask-wearing, he says, emphasizing as a former member of the parade committee, he is not speaking in any official capacity. “Monitoring COVID protocols didn’t seem practical. The gathering itself would be in violation of provincial regulations, and we aren’t getting the impression that things will get better in the near-term,” he adds. They don’t want to put the crowd at risk, or the many participants, from the volunteer organizers to those on floats.
There has been talk about alternatives, options to make the Christmas season special, despite the pandemic.
Again stressing these are his personal thoughts, he says the town has to be careful, but “there are things they can do. Whatever they decide, they can’t tell anyone ahead of time. If they do publicize it, they’d draw a crowd, and they don’t want to do that. They won’t want to put people at risk,” says Cheriton. “I’m sure they’re throwing around a few ideas, and it will be fun to watch and see what they can come up with.”
This will be the first time in more than five decades that NOTL families won’t see one of the best Christmas parades wind its way through Old Town Streets. Cheriton says there came a year when Pospiech “put a stake in the ground” declaring it the 40th anniversary of the event, but nobody can pin down precisely the year it started.
Cheriton’s wife Rosalie did some research for the committee, finding a reference in the local newspaper of the day, and going by that, Cheriton says it has to be more than 50 years since the first parade took place in Virgil, before moving to the Old Town. Whatever the exact number, “it’s been going on a long, long time.”
Likewise, he says, it’s difficult to say how many people it attracts, but going by the traffic in and out of town and the crowds lining the streets from the former Parliament Oak School property, where it starts, to the Queen Street Cenotaph where it winds up, suffice it to say, “it’s a lot of people.”
While Cheriton speaks of the timeliness for revitalizing the parade committee for the 2021 event, he also refers to his own health as a reason to step back and concentrate on his family.
He and Rosalie have agreed to “simplify” their lives, beginning with selling their home and moving to a condominium in Kingsview Estates.
In 2016, when Cheriton was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was told he had a 20 per cent chance of surviving the following summer. He was considered palliative, and put on a course of therapy not with the expectation of ridding him of cancer, but hopefully extending the time he had remaining.
After his diagnosis, he began doing his own research, and discovered an option for patients with inoperable or difficult-to-reach tumours, called irreversible electroporation (IRE), which uses short, repetitive, high-energy pulses of electricity to destroy cancer cells. He found a doctor in Germany who was using IRE on pancreatic tumours, involving surgery to reach them, and while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy here at home, he also made the trip to Germany for the IRE treatment.
Once home again, he resumed a regimen of chemo, which he continues to this day, in three-month cycles.
Cheriton’s case was reviewed recently by his oncologist and a number of his peers, including oncologists and radiologists, to look at what the last round of tests indicated.
“They said nothing has changed in three years. That’s quite astonishing,” he says, attributing the good news to the “support and extraordinary care” he’s received since his diagnosis. And during that time, he adds, “I’m living a reasonable facsimile of a normal life, other than the loss of a few days after chemo from tiredness. I still feel pretty fortunate.”
He has also recently been handed a new lease in life that he has long hoped for. When he was in his 40s, he began to lose his hearing from a genetic condition. He had hoped to have a cochlear implant — he had seen a doctor at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, and was looking forward to the surgery. But then he was diagnosed with cancer, and because of his weakened immune system from chemotherapy, it had to be put off.
When he mentioned to his oncologist about a year ago he was still hoping to have the implant, his doctor got in touch with the surgeon at Sunnybrook, “and the next thing I know I get a call from the surgeon, wanting to set a date for surgery.”
He had the cochlear implant surgery in January, and the improvement in his hearing, he says, “is stunning.”
Measured in a quiet room before the implant, his hearing was at 10 per cent. Now it’s at 90 per cent.
His mother had been one of the first to have the implant at the same hospital, when it was still experimental, and she told him she hoped when his turn came it would work as well for him as it had for her — she was paving the way for him.
“They remember her at the hospital. The director of the program has copies of the documents of her implant. For her it was five to seven hours of surgery, and a fairly extensive recovery period. For me, it was two hours and home the same day.”
The external sound processor, in his mother’s day, was about the size of a jewelry box, as Cheriton describes it, which she wore around her waist.
His resembles a large hearing aid behind his ear, making masks and his choice of hat difficult to wear, he jokes — but he’s quick to add he’s not complaining, having been granted the surgery that “gave them pause” considering his age and cancer diagnosis.
He wanted the implant so he could hear his four grandchildren, he says, and it’s working.
“It’s been years since I’ve heard better than I can now. I can sit down one on one with these guys and talk to them. That’s very special. Life is pretty darn good, and I feel like a very lucky person.”
During the early days of the COVID lockdown, Cheriton, says he found himself feeling down, having trouble finding the positive, upbeat attitude he is known for.
“I was not the me that I know,” he says.
But then the NOTL Golf Club opened for the season, ands depression disappeared.
“I remember clearly the first day the club opened. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and when I got out on the golf course, I felt completely liberated. Being able to play golf, regardless of COVID, has been terrific.”
He continues to play golf several times a week, in two leagues, and occasionally with Rosalie.
He is also still on the NOTL Hydro board. He says he became a “serious techie” as a youngster, which led to a career in telecommunications and information technology that allows him to be useful and contribute in a meaningful way. NOTL Hydro, he says, is run by an incredible team, including president Tim Curtis.
“They’re a great group to work with. Even with the recent fraud, the part of the story that gets lost in the shuffle is that it was our people doing their job that realized something was wrong,” he says, referring to the discovery of an employee stealing a significant amount of money.
“If I feel like I’m timing out, I will walk away from it,” says Cheriton. “But I’m not there yet. It’s a great board, and I’m still having fun.”
He also still likes the idea of “engaging with the community,” and says he’s not giving up on volunteerism. He’s interested in history, so may look for an opportunity to explore local history further, to contribute in some way.
“Odds are I’ll find something else to do,” says Cheriton, who would be the first to admit, the odds so far have been in his favour.