Just rewards

Gerry Phelan
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I’ve always wanted a medal. Try as I may — at sports, journalism, heck, even life in general, that round piece of metal has eluded me. Not that I haven’t claimed my share of honours, but there’s something special about a shiny, sparkling medal.  

In Grade 1, I got an award for something or other. It was an orange-covered Hansel and Gretel book. In the fourth grade, I won a softball throwing contest. I got another book. I won student of the year in Grade 10; I got a trophy. I have statues for my Edward R. Murrow Awards, and numerous plaques and pictures, but no medal.

In fact, the only medal I probably ever received was a religious one, when I made my first communion.

Medals signify achievement and that’s why I was so proud to accompany my father as he accepted the Queen’s Jubilee Medal at Government House last week. Reading the background for the honour, from the Governor General’s website, makes the Jubilee Medal seem so special, and it is.

The recipient must be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada, have made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community in Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada; and they must have been alive on Feb. 6, 2012, the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession to the throne.  

Nominations poured in all last year from community groups and organizations. Members of Parliament, senators, lieutenant-governors, territorial commissioners, and premiers were also invited to nominate deserving candidates.

There have been so many ceremonies that they are no longer key media events. Such was the case when MP Jack Harris joined Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie for the ceremony I attended. An official photographer and proud family and friends keenly captured the moment, but the stories of achievement that were told from the podium were heard only by the audience in the room. These were tales and mini-biographies of  Canadians who have made this country great.     

I’ve heard it said that these medals are trivial. Criticism has ranged from the typical anti-monarchy comments to calling it all a waste of money.

Indeed, some might suggest that being one of 60,000 (the number of medals awarded) isn’t really all that significant. I doubt there was anyone at Government House last Thursday who thought that. Recipients on one side, guests on the other, we stared at those who entered the presentation room.

There were war veterans and police officers, a brigadier general and several renowned actors and filmmakers. This particular group included a number of people hands-on in social and community interest groups, and authors Helen Fogwill Porter and Dereck O’Brien.

And, there was my dad, the man known as the smiling postman, who toiled the streets of St. John’s for 43 years, carrying the King’s mail before Confederation and Canada’s mail for decades that followed, all without losing a day of work to an injury.

He has been retired 25 years, but is still active, volunteering in the community and making a difference in the lives of others. So here he was on a Thursday afternoon, about to receive a special honour.

A wise friend, who has nominated literally hundreds of people for such awards, told me recently that things like this may not mean a row of beans to the public, but to the people involved and their families, it is priceless.

He is so right. Recognizing the services of our fellow Canadians is not a waste of money. It is fitting tribute to those, from all walks of life, who do that little extra, not expecting a pat on the back.

The smiling face of my dad as he ever so humbly accepted the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from His Honour, is already a treasured memory.

On our way out of Government House, my dad remarked that we had certainly been in some special company.

So had they.     


Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Organizations: Government House

Geographic location: Canada

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