Inspired to speak up for those struggling to be understood
Following a prominent business career, D. Hugh Gillard, chairman of the Calgary Zoological Society board, continued to give back to the community through his work with Hospice Calgary, the Calgary Zoo and the penning of his autobiography to help children with a condition close to his heart.
As a child, Douglas Hugh Gillard was unable to clearly pronounce his own name. Born on the family farm in central Alberta in 1948, Gillard arrived with a cleft lip and palate.
In his formative years, Gillard struggled with speech and many found it difficult to understand his words.
“Around age four or five, I remember my mother wondering what I said,” recollects Gillard. “My sister, who was a year younger, probably only three or four, I remember her telling my mother what I had said and I knew then, I didn't know what it was, but I knew then that there was something different.”
Gillard’s little sister, Jean, acted as an interpreter for her brother. Jean features prominently in ‘What did you say? Memories on a Road Less Travelled’, Douglas’s autobiography.
“I didn't think he was any different than the rest of us,” said Jean Quigley. “I mean you grow up and you know my grandma and grandpa would say ‘What did he say?’ and I'd repeat it.”
“It was just a way of life.”
Frustrated by his inability to express himself to the world, Gillard said his time in the second grade was the worst year of his life, but he did not allow himself to give up on his education.
His perseverance paid off. In 1972, he graduated from the University of Calgary and went on to a successful career in the petroleum industry.
At the age of 25, Gillard was referred to the new cleft palate team at the Alberta Children's Hospital. He received speech therapy and underwent plastic surgery, with astounding results.
With his career skyrocketing and improved communication skills, Gillard’s life was in order and he began to look for ways to give back to the community Two organizations which have benefitted from his passion and expertise are the Calgary Zoo and Hospice Calgary.
“Once I had my career going in the oil industry, I was approached to join hospice, which I did,” explained Gillard. “It’s a phenomenal organization and I ended up chairing the board there.”
Sarah Walker was named executive director of Hospice Calgary during Gillard’s time on the board.
“What I really appreciated was that he spent a lot of time listening to me and talking things through with me,” said Walker. “(He) acted in a real mentorship role.”
When Gillard’s tenure with the hospice board reached its conclusion, he was invited to join the Calgary Zoo board, a position he continues to hold.
D. Hugh Gillard's autobiography, ‘What did you say?’, is available on Amazon. Gillard donates all proceeds from the sale of the book to Operation Rainbow Canada, a group of doctors and nurses who go to developing countries to perform no-cost surgeries on young children with cleft palates.
With files from CTV's Darrel Janz