2017 Seniors of Distinction awards handed out to 5 Newfoundlanders
Making the world a better place.
That broad statement gets broader when you discuss the contributions five individuals have made to their respective communities and all the people they have touched along the way.
In fact, the changes these individuals made have a global effect that reaches outside the borders of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it was these accomplishments they were honoured for Oct. 3 as the 2017 Seniors of Distinction Awards winners at a ceremony held at the Capital Hotel in St. John’s. This year’s recipients are Margaret Burden of Port Hope Simpson, Augustine (Gus) Etchegary of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Dermot (Derm) Flynn of Appleton, Leonard (Len) Simms of St. John’s and Willis Whyatt of St. Carol’s.
Be it through local education programs and coaching teams such as Burden has done, playing a song to seniors as Whyatt continues to do, delving into the fishery for seven decades like Etchegary, or being a politician like Simms and Flynn – they have all made lasting contributions.
Flynn even gets a mention under the marquee on Broadway as a character in “Come From Away” on a nightly basis.
The awards program was designed to identify and celebrate the contributions, achievements and diversity of older persons throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development Lisa Dempster was on hand to make the presentations.
“There are so many ways you have given to build your communities and families,” Dempster said.
“It has shaped our province and the lives of those around you.”
Each recipient has a truck full of stories and experiences, but the message comes back to what is at the heart of Newfoundland culture — giving.
“You are not one person in this world. You always have to help those less fortunate,” Burden said.
“It is important we do whatever we can to help those less fortunate and need our help,” she added.
Burden said she is not immune to failures and rough patches in her life. But it was her perseverance that allowed her to overcome it.
“I have fallen, but have always gotten back up. I have had a lot of bruises,” she said. Put in his papers
Flynn, who has spent time in a multitude of communities in both Newfoundland and Labrador, has been a member of the Appleton town council for the past 24 years.
Tuesday marked his last day in office, as a new mayor was sworn in at council Tuesday night.
“With the events we have seen unfold in the last 24 hours and the recent storms people have suffered through recently down south, how gifted are we to live in a beautiful country and province as this one?” he said.
He said he enjoyed his time as mayor of Appleton and gave credit to the community of Wabush for allowing him to get involved in social issues and find a way to make a difference.
On a day when he was honoured twice, as mayor and as a senior awards winner, he was quick to deflect the attention.
“I sent a letter out to constituents that said I consider all seniors to be seniors of distinction … and I mean that,” he said.
Simms said he did some research about the people who have won the Seniors of Distinction Awards in the past and called it humbling to be associated with that list of people.
He also said he is proud to be associated with the 2017 list of recipients.
“I spent a 20-year career in politics and retired 20 years ago. I was never one to look for accolades … well, maybe when I was in office … but I will cherish this one forever,” Simms said.
And like a story as old as time, music has always found a way to touch people’s lives.
Whyatt has performed his songs for people of this province for 32 years and wants to share his stories with residents everywhere. In fact, he just released his first album in an attempt to do so.
“I have been performing for decades and I see how music moves people,” he said.
“There was a lady in a wheelchair at a seniors’ home that had to be wheeled in to see the performance. When I started to sing, she got up, wrapped her arms around me and stayed there until I finished.”
On another occasion, he said to one of his band mates in the Pumper Boys, “We’re not doing too bad.”
His band mate responded by saying, “You are right, we got one old feller put to sleep.”
Profiles of recipients of the 2017 Seniors of Distinction Award winners
Port Hope Simpson
Born in 1938 in Twillingate, Margaret Burden moved to Port Hope Simpson to teach in the early 1950s. She married a fisherman and raised eight children. During the winter Burden would teach and during the summer she would fish with her husband. She was an educator, leader, volunteer, counsellor, Sunday school teacher, municipal politician and businesswoman with tons of energy and vision. Burden owns and operates two businesses and served as the town’s mayor for 20 years this September. She has been a recreation co-ordinator for the community and the Labrador Winter Games for many years. She still never misses a dog team race. Young athletes she coached as teenagers are now in their 50s and still run, ski and snowshoe. Burden was instrumental in getting the Moulder of Dreams Pottery Shop off the ground. She also started a community garden from the waste of the hydro plant. She has helped develop athletes, potters and gardeners by encouraging individuals to be their very best.
Willis Whyatt was born in 1941 in St. Carol’s, where he has resided his entire life. When Whyatt was 11 years old his father was unable to work for a winter, so, as the oldest child, he left school to take on his father’s duties. That same year he began his career in the fishery. As an adult, he and other community members spearheaded the building of a new school and church, which were funded through the St. Carol’s Concert, a decadeslong tradition on the Northern Peninsula. To this day, Whyatt sits on the board of the local parish council and is a member of the church band. Traditional music has been his lifelong passion, which he attributes to his grandfather. As a member of the group Folk of the Sea, he played for Queen Elizabeth in Bonavista. In his 50s, he joined another musical group called The Pumper Boys and although the band retired in 2012, Whyatt continues to play. Now, in his early 70s, when most people are slowing down, Whyatt released his first album. His songs are played regularly on radio stations throughout the province.
Willis Whyatt of St. Carol’s is presented with a 2017 Seniors of Distinction award by Lisa Dempster.