Just what is an ‘old boy’, anyway?

“It’s who you know that makes the difference around here.”

“Yeah, if you’re not part of the old boys’ network, you’re not going anywhere.”

“Old boys. They’re a cozy compact of powerful people who shut everybody else out.”

Interesting phrases to describe a group of people who exist in probably every community. Old Boys. Who are Old Boys, anyway?

When I was 24 and moved to Barrie, anxious to continue my journalism career, I felt that doors were closed unless I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. Sure, I was known in my home town, but here, in Barrie? Hah!

Now, that was my 24 year old, newcomer angst (Barrie’s population was 24,000 at the time).

I’ve been in Barrie now for 35 years. For a number of reasons, my perspective has changed. I thought it might be interesting to take you with me on this journey.

I started meeting Old Boys in the 70’s as I covered events in and around Barrie. Photographer and writer all rolled into one, I soon met a lot of people. There were the agricultural Old Boys… Henry Davis down in Essa Township, and a lot of Caldwells and Shelswells. They sat on the Agricultural Society Boards, they served on 4H Committees, they won ribbons at the Royal Winter Fair. They were Agricultural Leaders.

There were more Old Boys at the service club meetings that I began to ‘cover.’ Every Thursday at the Mirmar Gardens the Old Boys of Rotary showed up to hear challenging speakers, to open up opportunity to add to their already heavy load of community work. Bill Caldwell, toilet seat entrepreneur; Ron Stewart, restaurant supply; Ron Lynch, owner of a hotel & janitorial supply company; George Davies & Stan Cohen, premier home builders; Bob Angeloff, developer; Ed Harper, the tire guy, and on and on and on.

There were the same sort of Old Boys at the Lions Club. And at Kiwanis. And at the Legion. Dave Blenkarn, of Allan G. Cook; Les Cooke of Cooke Cartage; Bob Sarjeant of Sarjeant Insurance; and a whole lot of lawyers and accountants.

An interesting pattern emerged. At the annual meeting of the Children’s Aid Society, there sat a number of Old Boys on the Board of Directors. They were raising money for services to children.

A few more turned up on the Big Brothers Board of Directors, helping to develop services for sons without fathers. And, wow! there they were again, giving time and business expertise to the Board of Royal Victoria Hospital. When it came time (finally!) to build the new Royal Victoria Hospital, guess who dug into their pockets and donated huge amounts of their own money to put the campaign over the top?

That’s right. Old Boys.

Then the old hospital took a long trip and turned itself into a remarkable multi-level seniors service. It was a long trip and took the vision and determination of a unique Board of Directors. And who headed that up? Another Old Boy.

It’s always interesting to walk into a public building and look at the front lobby, look at the names of the people who gave of their time and their resources to make something happen. I always pause at RVH when I’m in on a visit, just to ponder and appreciate the numbers of business owners who took time to help this happen.

Next time you’re at an event at the Molson Centre, pause. Whether you’re sitting at a hockey game, or walking the covered floor for a trade show, this fabulous facility happened because one Old Boy had a vision and a bunch of other Old Boys made it happen.

It’s so easy to be critical, to be negative, to be … jealous?, perhaps… of those who have made their way in our community. It’s so easy to resent their status and their money. But I’ve learned this. These leaders are most often self-made entrepreneurs who took great risks coupled with huge passion to see a dream take shape. And, because they know how to do that, they are eager to share it, to give back, to honour the community that has nurtured their growth.

To those who look down their noses at any group of people who can, and do, make a difference, I’d say this. Look again. Without these kinds of leaders, without their initiative and their generosity with time, talent and money, this community would be without virtually all of the services it currently enjoys.

Walk around our parks. Look at the plaques. Share the dream. And then step forward… the Old Boys club has no dues or fees… its membership is open to anyone with kind initiative, generous spirit, great ideas and the willingness to give 120%.

And, here’s the best part. In the 70’s, it was truly Old Boys who took the lead. And today, we have a generation of women whose business acumen and intelligence and energy have opened the doors. You don’t hear them called Old Girls, though. Hmmmm.

So, thank you. Thank all the Old Boys and Old Girls who shape this community so the rest of us can enjoy it!