Bob Sarjeant’s efforts have touched us all…

When you’re running on the track at the Barrie Y, when you’re having Xrays at Royal Victoria Hospital, when you’re enjoying many of the marvellous gifts that Rotary Clubs have given this community, you’re being touched by Bob Sarjeant.

As I sat reading national and local newspapers over Christmas season, I was grateful for the stock-taking of those world pillars whose lives ended during 2002.

Among our own Barrie pillars was Bob Sarjeant, who left his earthly address Dec 7 at age 77 after 7 years with Alzheimers disease.

It’s tragic, as well as ironic, that this disease, which robs people of their conscious mind, took the life of a man whose brain was so engaged with his community. And, it’s hard to gather in a few words the powerful gifts left by a quiet individual.

Bob Sarjeant was Barrie to the bone. He grew up on a tiny block on the eastern extension of Dunlop St., a nest of a dozen modest houses from whose doors spilled at least 20 boys of the same age. And these boys lived for shinny on the streets, moving onto the ice of Kempenfelt Bay as soon as it froze. They explored the empty fields that would become Amelia St, they bobsledded down the Dundonald St hill, narrowly missing oncoming traffic as they sped for the open ice below them.

They had fun. Mecano sets. Sandboxes. Sarjeants, Moffatts, O’Connors, Frasers, MacLarens, Caldwells…

Just before Christmas, Bob’s best friends gathered to say goodbye… Bill Caldwell, Graydon Knapp, Ross Rodgers, Ted Brant… their lives with Bob began with road hockey and ended in a pew at Collier St. United Church, behind Bob’s wife Beth and daughters Patricia and Mary Jane.

And what is Bob Sarjeant’s legacy? Well, it’s touched us all. He was quiet. Steely quiet. Determined quiet. And he loved to jog, ski, work-out, and understood the strength gathered by a simple life.

As a young man, just after World War Two, he joined the family insurance firm and while his father, Fred, concentrated on serving the agricultural community, Bob worked the main street, building the insurance business and growing with his customers. He was a natural leader and his employees were part of an appreciated team.

Bob’s fascination with Kempenfelt Bay resulted in decades of records of freeze up and spring thaw, and it was Bob’s records that regional media continually turned to to monitor what was late and what was early. As Bob’s illness made recording impossible, the mantle was passed to naturalist, Alex Mills, himself an environmental enthusiast.

Rotary was Bob’s huge commitment in life, and through Rotary he gave incredible energy to his community. Ron Lynch recalls as a new, young Rotarian understudying with Bob for the Rotary Radio Auction. “He was a mentor for me. I didn’t know the first thing about the auction when I became chair, but Bob walked me through every phase.”

It was a relationship that continued for years as Ron met monthly with Bob for guidance as Ron built his own business.

“He loved the idea of new people moving to town. He was a great president of Rotary and he was the kind of guy who took on a job and did it, no questions asked. You never had to check up on Bob.”

Bob was president of the Barrie Y, and involved in the first building committee. Rotary Club donated the land at the top of Toronto St., and Bob fuelled the initiative that built the building, taking it out of cramped quarters on Owen St. Bob was involved in the addition several years later.

As a young man, in 1951, Bob was president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, later the Jaycees, and ultimately served as an international senator.

He was involved in the Barrie and District Collegiate Board and as chair in 1967 worked tirelessly to build a technical wing on the school, and an auditorium with near perfect pitch… Barrie’s first real theatre.

He was a member of the board that build Collier Place in the mid-80’s. In fact, Bob’s commitment to Collier St. Church is legendary.

He took over the fundraising campaign at Royal Victoria Hospital, revitalized it and drove the funds well past $16 million. He held on when others gave up, discouraged. The province had promised a new hospital if the municipality proved the commitment was there, and though it took almost 20 years before the doors on the new RVH opened, Bob kept true to the dream and never gave up on the fundraising effort. It was the largest charitable fundraising campaign in the city of Barrie, ever. Without this, we might never have had a new hospital.

And while Bob was a community man, he was also true to himself and his family. His daughter Mary Jane looks at her father’s legacy as one of inner calm. He knew who he was, quietly, and it’s the gift she’ll hold on to forever.

Dolores Courtis Hamilton worked for Bob Sarjeant for 24 years, and then became one of the new owners of the insurance company when Bob sold out to an employee team. She remembers well Bob’s parting from the company in early 1990. Eight months later, Bob walked back in the door and asked his former employees to gather in the board room. Puzzled, people left their computer terminals, their files, their phone calls and followed this compact man into the room where he’d lead them so well.

They were quiet. And Bob gestured towards Dolores, and noted that on this day in August, 1991, we was marking a quarter century of employment with Sarjeants. He held out a gift from him to mark the occasion. It was the watch that Dolores continues to wear today. It signifies alot of what Bob stood for. While he always looked ahead, eye on the future, Bob was solidly anchored in his past and what that signified.

Thanks, Bob.