Community leader reflects on 30 years

Bob Murdoch stepping down as executive director of Centre 55

Retiring Centre 55 executive director Bob Murdoch says it’s going to be tough leaving a job he so dearly loves.

“I don’t have particular plan, I just need some time, honestly, to wean myself off of my addiction to the centre.”

After 30 years at the helm of one of the city’s most celebrated community centres, Murdoch officially stepped down on May 14.

For three decades, Murdoch has been the man behind initiatives that raised the profile of the centre while helping to improve the lives of those in the Beach community.

“For me, (my favourite time) is always going to be Christmas, said Murdoch, an amateur bagpiper and father of two.

In addition to organizing one of the biggest Christmas parades in the city, leading a veritable army of over 2,000 staff and volunteers, Murdoch ran an annual Christmas hamper program, providing families in need with turkey, fresh foods and toys for children.

Murdoch remembers delivering the first hamper in the early 1980s.

“I remember this lady opened the door. She had four kids, all with runny noses and rosy cheeks. They had nothing. I’ll never forget it.”

A Malvern CI alumnus, Murdoch studied human resources at University. Following a job at the YMCA, Murdoch jumped at the chance to work in the community he so dearly loves.

“I knew the old police station because I grew up here,” he said of the building that now currently houses the community centre.

His proudest moment, he said, came some years ago, when he was chairing a committee to award the Ontario Award for Good Citizenship.

As he poured over the nominations, Murdoch found one in the rejected pile that caught his eye — a young woman named Doris Bell.

“It was a pretty static nomination, there wasn’t a lot in it. Every Wednesday she would go somewhere to make beads for kids in a daycare, Tuesday she’d go to the food bank, Thursdays she’d work with some senior citizens,” he said.

But then Murdoch noticed something: Doris Bell had Down Syndrome.

“I had the honour and privilege to actually present her with the Medal for Good Citizenship with the Lieutenant-Governor. This person was so thrilled to get the attention. It was a very, very moving experience. I’ll never forget her face — ever.”

On May 12, friends, family and staff gathered at the Balmy Beach Club to celebrate Murdoch’s retirement.

“The staff and the board presented me with a brand new set of bagpipes as a gift. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Murdoch now finds himself in the position of being somewhat of a consultant on the subject of community centres.

“People ask me all the time how we do it. It’s innovation,” he said. “You can’t be addicted to government grants. You’ve got to come up with good, clever ideas and you’ve got to make them work.”

One such innovation was Murdoch’s idea to paddle a canoe across Lake Ontario, from New York State to Kew Beach, as a fundraiser.

The event was a success so they bought more canoes and did it 17 years in a row, raising over $100,000 for the centre.

Though Murdoch said he’ll continue with the centre part time as the board chooses his successor, for now he’s headed to his cottage near Ottawa.

Calling Murdoch a wonderful mentor, co-worker Nancy Culver said she’s sad to see him go.

“He will leave a huge footprint.”


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By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: May 19 2010 11:09 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto
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