In the last few weeks, we lost two stalwarts of the sector – Kay Blair and Fred Franklin. Both were extraordinary leaders in the social justice work of the sector, Kay with a focus on immigrant settlement, and women economic and social empowerment; and Fred on refugee protection and detention issues for all those imprisoned, refugees or not.
As I sat through their funerals and memorials this past weekend, I found myself marvelling at the diversity of people they had touched in their lives. The tributes accorded them spoke to the influence they had on public policy, but more importantly to the heart that they each brought to their work.
A Black Immigrant woman from Jamaica and a Jewish White man from western Germany fleeing Hitler’s hatred, both Kay and Fred eventually landed in Toronto, Ontario Canada where their contributions were valued for the positive differences it made in the lives of individuals and communities.
Kay Blair was the Executive Director of Community MicroSkills Development Centre. Twenty-eight years ago she took over the leadership of an organization with four staff, two desks and a moderate budget and built it into a multi-site, multi-service, multi-million dollar service organization.
Kay broke through many barriers as a Black, Immigrant Jamaican woman. She was the first Black woman to helm a major Hospital, as Chair of William-Osler Health System. She was also Chair of the Board of Governors of Centennial College, one of our community colleges here in Ontario. A champion of grassroots organizing, Kay was founding chair of the National Visible Minority Labour Market Development Council, was an active member in the early days of the Congress of Black Women, and was instrumental in the growth of OCASI as a Council with significant political influence and community connections during her two terms of President of the Board. Kay’s work was acknowledged and celebrated with various awards over the years, including the OCASI Lifetime achievement award she received the same year as Fred Franklin received the OCASI Spirit Award.
In addition to sharing recognition by OCASI, Fred was also the recipient of many accolades and awards for his work. Although trained and employed as an engineer for many years, Fred spent the last forty years or so of his life committed to social justice. He was instrumental in founding the Canadian Council for Refugees, and was the founding coordinator of Toronto Refugees Affairs Council (TRAC) whose work continues to ensure decent treatment of individuals in immigration detention. Active in the Quaker Community, Fred influenced the work of many organizations in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector, including the growth of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT) and the policy work of OCASI.
Both Fred and Kay are leaving big shoes (High heels and Birkenstocks) to fill. They are going to be missed by all of us who knew and loved them.