Lynn Price: thoughtful strength, humble vision

If Lynn Price were developing an organization chart, her position of CAO would be at the bottom. Just above it would be all the second-in-commands, those overseeing specialty areas. Above them would be the employees, the administrative, finance, policy, and front line people.

At the top of Lynn’s org chart would be the clients.

Lynn would see it this way because that’s how Lynn operated. She wasn’t ‘at the top.’ She was at the bottom, in a support role that made it possible to achieve the impossible.

Simcoe Community Services is one of this region’s largest employers. Spread across the region in a phalanx of 600+ people, SCS work is focussed on people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities.

Simcoe Community Services has offices throughout the region. It operates integrated nursery schools, group homes, technical and learning support, employment support, medical referral systems, advocacy for families. It’s a far cry from facilities like Huronia Regional Centre or Edgar Occupational Centre where people with disabilities (especially intellectual disabilities) were segregated to be in their own environment with caregivers.

Today SCS is held up as a provincial model of integrated service and has received expanded mandates, funding and accreditation.

The CAO (Chief Administration Officer) of this ambitious, effective organization was Lynn Price. It’s through Lynn’s remarkable ability to lead from behind, to develop working strategies that empower not only employees but clients that SCS is the model that it has become.

Lynn died in November, after 5 months in a bed at Toronto General Hospital, waiting for a double-lung transplant that didn’t surface. She died too soon, at age 59, but not too soon to have ahieved remarkable change for an organization that’s over 60 years old, that began with primitive roots in an upper floor office by a couple of women who believed that kids with intellectual handicaps deserved more.

What’s remarkable is that while Lynn’s co-workers, her board members, her front line people all mourned her loss and said she gave the bulk of her time and energy to the organization, it was her family–husband Mike, kids Jonathon and Lauren–who said that no! she gave the lion’s share of her time to them.

And both are right. Lynn was able to walk that remarkable path between work and home, between being a leader and an activist, a visionary and advocate and being a mom, wife, sister and daughter.

She seemed to do it all with great ease. Her children, now adults, took it as a matter of course that their mother would be there to help with university exam papers, with helping to find Jonathon his first apartment and that she’d produce Sunday dinner for her dad and head up her kids’ schools parents council.

They were in awe at her funeral as they listened to this woman of influence whose ideas and energy had touched so many for so much.

Dave Barber, chairman of the board of Simcoe Community Services and chair of the provincial board as well, saw himself and Lynn as critical members of a team. He identifies Lynn’s gifts as the ability to work miracles in a quiet way, building consensus, respecting all, giving a voice to providers in the developmental services sector. A gentle woman who made tough decisions.

Lynn Price was the hub of influence in developing a work culture that made people ache with pride to be involved in their organization. Staff marvelled at her composure and her ability to attract high quality professionals to manage programs and services.

In 2008 when Lynn’s health began to fail, her constant need for oxygen meant she couldn’t leave home for work. Simply breathing was difficult so Lynn stayed home for work and with her usual calm she handled her husband Mike’s mild heart attack, her dad’s death and her daughter’s wedding at home… all in the same week. She continued to work towards what became her final vision, a facility that opened in August in Orillia. It’s a Day Program Building that offers a full range of services not available anywhere else to the disabled. When it opened last August, Lynn was already on her final journey, sidelined at TGH, waiting for lungs. She got the news by video.

How to sum up a life of a woman whose core values have always included the intellectually handicapped and their needs? How to sum up a leader whose focus on people allowed her to achieve what had yet to be done? How to sum up a mother whose care was eternal? A wife whose light has dimmed?

“Lynn extended her reach far beyond her grasp.” David Barber’s closing remarks at her funeral.
A loss, for sure, but a tremendous gift for her life.

Thanks, Lynn.