FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Julie Hamilton
February 28, 2017
She doesn’t sell her art in galleries or take commissions. She prefers to ‘do the art’. Her vehicle choice is always predicated on “getting that big box in the back” – without much concern for other frills, just as long as that box of paints, paintings etc. fits. And her working with stained glass ended a few moves ago, because having shards of glass around in a home with children isn’t a good idea. Is she just practical pragmatism in action, or a force of nature?
Mom, wife, painter, lover of lakes, devastated, survivor, activist, shite-disturber, charming hostess, cause advocate, fundraiser? All of those. She’s raised money and awareness, won an Alberta Order of Excellence and makes a mean cup of coffee …
Could Tim’s death have been prevented with an ounce of common sense rather than expediency? Obviously. Can other senseless deaths and injuries be prevented? Julie thinks so, demonstrates so and makes it so …
She’s been changing attitudes up and down the corporate ladder, in government, in the field and sometimes singled out in a restaurant by an exuberant young man with, “Tim’s mom!”. Who is she? Julie Hamilton is and was Tim’s mom. Tim’s gone but not his memory. She’s wife to Bob. Asked how she copes, “Bob does it through community involvement, I use drugs …” and in a moment you know she’s only half kidding. How would you cope with a near-miss life altering event – your daughter with cancer, recovery, followed on its heels by your son being electrocuted in a senseless avoidable accident?
I’d heard plenty about Julie from many sources and mutual friends - chief among them her recently retired husband Bob Hamilton whom I interviewed a couple of years ago. And from many others.
In a recent chance meeting with Bob, he introduced me to Julie and said, “Mark, you should interview Julie”, and so I did. She recently hosted me in her Lake Bonavista lakefront kitchen – and I got the whole story, from the beginning. “Being an Ontario girl, I’m made of water …”, so it is no surprise she lives on a lake and intends to stay put. Her story:
Julia (Julie) Dundass was born in Hamilton, raised in Brantford. Mom was an R.N. whom Julie describes as “quietly feminist” and dad (whose three siblings all became dentists) was a purchasing agent at Westinghouse; they were both from St. Lambert (Montreal). Julie was the middle child of three. She had a great time at school but struggled academically with a learning disability – and she struggles still with spelling, though she struggles with little else. She finished high school at 21 – and ‘supply taught’ there when they were short staffed! Her loves were gymnastics and art. She had chosen an art school in the southern U.S., but dad declined the cost. Off to Wilfred Laurier University (she met Bob in her first year) where she studied Psychology and obtained a B.A. – then to University of Toronto, trained as teacher. She taught high school physical education and worked as a counsellor. Later, she taught at U of T. Moves took place – relating to Bob’s pro football and banking career, taking them to Burlington (married in 1972), Oakville, London and Brantford – and then to Calgary in 1983.
Her stories of Tim and Maggie – are well told on her website, they’re a quick read but in no way reflect the joy and sorrow mix that unfolded over the Hamilton kitchen table. I’m not recounting that here, but I treasure all that Julie shared about kids, their friends, her and Bob’s friends – and the support she’s gotten from so many quarters. What did emerge – clearly this woman knows how to negotiate the corridors of ‘who’s who’ in the corporate and social world, she’s got a big smile and a strong arm – not just to wrestle cash for her cause but to wrangle support for change, for awareness and she’ll tell her story everywhere and anywhere she can to remind workers and CEO’s that the ‘easy’ way is not the ‘right’ way – and she offers up hard hat decals to remind them.
What caused it all? I have to wonder, if tragic circumstances had not visited the Hamilton family – if Maggie hadn’t got cancer, if Tim hadn’t been electrocuted – whether Julie Hamilton would be working for some cause, making valued contributions to her community and being much much more than wife, mom, friend and social butterfly who paints. Oh yeah! The cause of her ‘cause’ was clearly outside her control – but she has done something with it, with her pain and loss, with her experience. By example she demonstrates what determination can do, by her actions and words, she saves lives. Prevents injuries, changes lives. Spend some time with her and you’ll have no doubt.
Why are you successful? “Today, I’m happy. When you feel good about what you’ve left behind you – you are a success. I’ve passed that on to my children and will pass it on to my grandchildren”.
What has held you back? “Confidence. There is always an ‘I don’t know’, and what I could have done if I’d made different decisions."
How do you see your business – preventing injuries and saving lives – going forward over the next quarter?
… I’ve spoken all over the place, and still get calls from outside Alberta, but things are quieter now – the economy has slowed activity and reduced budgets.
And over the next five years?
… there are a lot of good things coming [Julie declined to expand/steal thunder from some OH&S announcements in the offing], there is increasing acceptance of change especially for contractors.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… is it local, is it Canadian? How thick is the instruction booklet? Is it on a CD?
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Julie Hamilton, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… in my painting, what they see speaks to something within them. In my speaking, though I’ll customize it to my audience, I have just one message – it is sacred.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… lots of things don’t bother me any more. I used to worry about the weir in the river - but they fixed it about five years ago so I don't have to worry about that now. I worry about things that aren’t safe, people who aren’t safe …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… moving to Calgary – suddenly thrust into a world where people were very positive, entrepreneurial and I met so many strong women! Maggie’s cancer. Tim’s death. Art has and continues to be cathartic for me – I don’t follow or copy others, I’ve needed to find my own way …
… painting, playing with grandchildren, entertaining.
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