Episode 137 – Celebrating Douglas Mitchell

On this episode, our correspondent, Aubrianna Snow, learns about the tremendous community impact of Douglas Mitchell.

Douglas held countless titles and honours throughout his life. He was a leading professional in law, a football player for both the BC Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and an advisor to countless community organizations. More importantly, he was a loving husband to former Alberta Lieutenant Governor, The Honourable Lois Mitchell, and a father of four children.

In 2017, Lois and Douglas worked together to create the History and Heroes Foundation, which serves to promote the diverse history of our province and provide funding to students with a passion for exploring Alberta’s past.

With Douglas Mitchell’s passing in July of 2022, Edmonton and Canada lost a sports icon and dedicated philanthropist, but his legacy lives on through the profound impact he left on the many communities he was a part of.

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The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation. And is a proud, affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Image for this episode was supplied.

Transcripts by Karli Drew.


[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays]

Graeme Lummer [00:00:25] Hi everyone. Welcome to The Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Graeme Lummer—

Lisa Pruden [00:00:28] And I’m Lisa...

Pruden. This podcast is brought to you by Edmonton Community Foundation. We are a proud affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Graeme [00:00:37] Edmonton is full of generous donors who have created endowment funds at ECF. These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.

Lisa [00:00:46] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed.

Graeme [00:00:52] On this episode, we learn about the tremendous community impact of Douglas Mitchell.

Lisa [00:00:56] Douglas passed away in July of 2022, leaving a legacy of generosity and commitment to community.

Graeme [00:01:03] Our correspondent, Aubrianna Snow, tells us more about Doug’s life and how the time he shared with family, friends, and colleagues lifted people up.

Aubrianna Snow [00:01:11] Hard work, dedication, and community-mindedness are the foundations of a great legacy and few people have modeled this more than the late Douglas Harding Mitchell. Douglas Mitchell, born in Calgary in 1939, held countless titles and honours throughout his life. A professional football player, a lawyer, commissioner of the CFL, inductee into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, recipient of the Order of Canada and the Alberta Order of Excellence, and a loving husband to former Alberta Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Lois Mitchell, as well as a father of four children.

[00:01:45] In 2017, Lois Mitchell and Douglas Mitchell worked together to create the History and Heroes Foundation, which serves to promote the diverse history of our province and provide funding to students with a passion for exploring Alberta’s past. With the Edmonton Community Foundation managing the endowment fund, the fund has grown from $50,000 to over $1.2 million in just five years. With Douglas Mitchell’s passing in July of 2022, Edmonton and Canada lost a sports icon and dedicated philanthropist, but his legacy lives on through the profound impact he left on the many communities he was a part of. Douglas Mitchell attended law school at the University of British Columbia and went on to become a prominent lawyer in our province. I spoke with his colleague Alan Ross, the regional managing partner for Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Calgary.

So tell me about how you came to know Douglas Mitchell.

Alan Ross [00:02:35] So Doug has been a colleague and a friend and a critical part of Borden Ladner Gervais throughout all my career there. And, uh, so I’ve known Doug for roughly 20 years and have had a wonderful opportunity to get to know him in a variety of capacities. As a leader within our firm, but also have had a real privilege to get to know him as well in various community initiatives and as a leader in the community and in the legal world as well as a leader within Borden Ladner Gervais.

Aubrianna [00:03:03] When you think of your time with Doug, what were some of your experiences with him and what kinds of memories stand out?

Alan [00:03:10] Doug was so impactful in meaningful ways. He, along with Her Honour Lois Mitchell, established the BLG Awards and we were an active participant, an active part of those awards, and it was a privilege to do that. But Doug was really a— even though he was a leader in, uh, ways large, he was also a leader in ways that were small as well. Individual discussions, a cup of coffee here and there, a phone call to see how you were doing. He was just incredible at the personal level as much as he was impactful at the, uh, national level.

[00:03:40] I think he was very much motivated by, uh, an interest in public service. I think he was very much motivated by a commitment to community betterment and making, not just Calgary and not just Alberta, but the country a better place. And he certainly did that. And he was also committed to advancing individuals. He really wanted to see the success of his partners, success of people in the community, a success of, uh, volunteer organizations. And so a tremendous commitment to public life through volunteerism, community engagement, sport, among other, uh, facilities.

Aubrianna [00:04:16] Now, what legacy does Douglas leave behind?

Alan [00:04:19] Part of the clear legacy he leaves at BLG is that he led the merger of the former Howard Mackie into the national law firm Borden Ladner Gervais and that was at a critical point of our firm’s history and really set the stage for a tremendously successful future that we’ve had and continue to have going forward. And Doug was an… an [emphasized] immense part of that as a leader locally in Calgary. He did a lot of the negotiation of it. He brought our lawyers together in consensus building and he led us at the national level as we entered into that partnership with other law firms across the country into, uh, just an incredible organization that we are today. And so that will be a lasting legacy for Doug.

[00:05:00] But also, he has such an incredible legacy in different aspects of— and walks of life. In the sports world, for example. The BLG Awards, the work that he’s done with Calgary, uh, sports teams, the Stamps and the Flames, his work within the CFL, and in the community. In so many ways in the community. On boards, as a community builder, as someone that was very committed to young people moving ahead. Those are just some examples of his legacy.

Doug is tremendously missed both within the BLG community and as well in the, uh, local and national communities. He really, along with Her Honour Lois Mitchell, gave incredibly to the community. It’s appreciated, it’s recognized, but it is very much missed with his passing.

Aubrianna [00:05:41] Sports represented an essential part of Douglas Mitchell’s identity. As a football player, hockey player, coach and mentor to so many athletes, Doug’s impact on the Canadian sports world was all-encompassing. I spoke with Rick LeLacheur, President of the BC Lions Football Club about his experiences with Douglas Mitchell.

So Rick, can you tell me a little bit about how you knew Douglas Mitchell and a little bit about what he was like?

Rick LeLacheur [00:06:04] He’s been around for a lot of years as a commissioner and then as a member of the management committee of the Calgary Stampeders. He’s, uh… he’s been involved for many years like I have, and he brought a lot of history to it and knew what had happened in the past. And while that’s not always the case on how to go forward, but it’s very helpful in knowing… what happened in the past as you move forward. I knew Doug more when I was Chairman of the Eskimos, and he was the Commissioner of the CFL. And then for the time that I was President of the Eskimos and then President here, he’s been on the Board of Governors as a partial owner of the Calgary Stampeders.

[00:06:46] In the ‘80s, when I was Chairman of the Eskimos as a volunteer, and he was the Commissioner of the CFL. It was a very interesting time, it always is with [laughs] the CFL. And Doug was really the catalyst of holding it all together when he was the Commissioner and just did an excellent job. And we had some challenges during those times, but he managed through them in his normal gentlemanly way and that— that’s the type of guy he was. And a very sincere gentleman and— but strong in his management of getting things done.

Aubrianna [00:07:19] Can you tell me a bit about your personal relationship with him?

Rick [00:07:22] My wife, Joan, and I have spent, uh, over the time, uh, the time with Doug and Lois both and when Lois was Lieutenant Governor. We’ve had some great times together. Not some fun times when we’re competing against each other. One has to win and one has to lose, unfortunately. But we’ve been to a lot of dinners and meetings and in the last few years, dealing with Scott, his son, as the President of the… the Tiger-Cats that kept it in the family and the CFL. And we just knew each other for [laughs] so long that I think I respected him very much and his background and his commitment. He was totally committed to the CFL and always wanted to make sure it was first class and going forward and would work.

Aubrianna [00:08:03] What do you think inspired Douglas Mitchell to be so involved in the community across so many spheres?

Rick [00:08:09] To start with, he was a sportsman. He loved sports, and as— he played for the Lions, he loved hockey also and was very involved. And I think then he became a very senior member of the Calgary business community… and knew as many owners in senior management in sport that if you’re in a community, you have to be involved in that community and commit to it. And Doug, very much so committed to— well, Doug and Lois committed to so many projects over the years that it’s just complete dedication.

Aubrianna [00:08:42] And what would you say was Douglas Mitchell’s impact on the sports community?

Rick [00:08:47] The whole Mitchell family, I think, has a great legacy in sport. And I-I know of UBC, the Doug Mitchell arena is there from the hockey days. He’ll have great legacies in what he’s built in Calgary, and he’s been involved in a number of projects, even in Edmon— well, all over Alberta. There— There’s a number of projects and Calgary Stampeders is one of them that it’s there today a lot because Doug Mitchell kept it going during some very trying times. And so those to me are— and even the CFL as a legacy of— we’ve had a lot of lives in the CFL and he was a big part in some very, very rough years of keeping it going.

Aubrianna [00:09:26] Her Honour Lois Mitchell, former Alberta Lieutenant Governor and Douglas Mitchell’s wife of over 60 years has four successful children and a lifetime of memories to remember her husband by. I got the chance to ask her some questions about her memories of him and about the profound work that they did together to uplift community.

Both you and your late husband have accomplished so much. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship and how you supported each other in your tremendous work?

Lois Mitchell [00:09:51] I think that both Doug and I realized how grateful we are about everything in our life. We have come from families that value doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time. We were both brought up that way that it wasn’t about getting recognition. You know, without meaning to, some people wanna get something for when they give. We were… we were brought up in a different way, you know, that saying about “to whom much is given, much is expected,” kind of thing. So we felt that we were blessed with having a family that was quite wonderful, and that’s what we saved. Doug loved his wonderful family. He was so grateful to have a good family. And more than anything, I think that we always felt that if there was an opportunity to be able to give back, that we would do it.

[00:10:44] You know, I think that that’s where we were inspired by many, many people. I’m gonna be totally honest with you. There are many wonderful people in our lives that we got to meet. And I mean, one of them was this wonderful Stan who was up in Edmonton that we— Stan Milner, that he inspired us. And he was very good that way. He… he said to Doug— I was on a committee with laws on Vimy Ridge, and he— [laughs] that’s where the History and Hero came about. Because he said to Doug, “You know, you’re a lawyer. Why don’t [laughs] you start a foundation for your wife?” And that’s the best thought about Doug. I mean, he would do anything to help me. And as I did anything to help him.

[00:11:25] And that’s where this whole History and Hero came from. And that was about somebody in Edmonton that— and everybody, I think, had such a respect for Stan, and it was such a great idea. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is and how thrilled Doug was with the way that it ended up helping these amazing, you know, graduating teachers that— I have to say that were just— we were so blessed and we were grateful for every opportunity that came our way. And if we saw it as an opportunity to give back, we did it.

Aubrianna [00:11:55] Can you tell me a bit about the History and Heroes Foundation?

Lois [00:11:58] If you would understand that Doug was a little bit competitive about— You know, growing up with sports, when somebody gives you a challenge, I’ll put it this way, it’s never too great a challenge, right? And so this is part of why with the History and Heroes, Doug was challenged by Stan, you know, to start giving and how to begin this foundation. And I think that Doug and I both knew that we had people in our lives that were coaches, teachers that truly inspired us. And so when Doug understood that this was gonna be all about, you know, heroes of the people of Alberta and the history of these heroes, he… he jumped right in. I have to say he and Stan had a major role in bringing this whole History and Heroes Foundation. But the one thing that was great that then Stan introduced me to an amazing man called Ralph Young, who he and his late wife became good friends of Doug and ours, he became the Chair because as Lieutenant Governor, I could not take on that chair. But we put together a wonderful, wonderful group of people that were part of our board.

[00:13:09] We worked together to achieve what History and Heroes is all about. And when Doug did pass on, I asked if people would, in fact, give to that. And we’re very, very grateful that many people took up that cause. And so it’s all about people that you meet. Just was there on Edmonton on Monday giving out these [emphasized] amazing, amazing— we call them Crystal Owls— to these five teachers that, oh, from all over. From Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. Like, it was just so wonderful. They’re recipients of the Glass Owl. The university picks three people that they know are going to be phenomenal teachers and we call them— all of them winners. They’re all winners and they receive a monetary amount. But the fact of the matter is that we always try and pick one that’s the recipient of the owl and to get to meet the— up in Edmonton, these [emphasized] amazing, amazing people that came with their family. So it almost made you wanna cry.

[00:14:12] You see them giving back. That’s what you see is they’re giving back because they don’t just work a nine-to-five, there’s nothing wrong with nine-to-five, but most of them as teachers, you actually work about a 10 hour day [laughs] because they’re involved in sports as well. So you teach and then you go on and do the coaching of the teams at school. So that’s what made me absolutely realize how amazing these graduating teacher— I mean, they’ve all— it may be their first year at the school, but they wanna give back. We have this wonderful board. We had a wonderful celebration here in Calgary that had the teachers from around Lethbridge, they came up from. One of our wonderful board members, Ray Romses, he’s a wonderful board member, came up. He was part of it, up in Edmonton.

[00:14:59] Uh, we were fortunate. Like, with— Ralph Young was there with us. I think that for me to be so grateful to this wonderful board that supports this and what we’re doing, I think that more than anything, a legacy of being a Lieutenant Governor was the History and Hero. And so I’m so grateful. I’m [emphasized] so, so grateful for the people behind it and… and those that want to give and see. And for us, it’s simply being able to give more. You know, every year we are hoping we can give a bit more to those graduating teachers that, believe me, do they ever appreciate it. They… they are so appreciative. So, it’s all about people that, like anything, that they’re willing to give back if they’ve got their health and the energy to. They often don’t have time. But I always say busy people make time. That’s been my philosophy. And so was Doug. I never heard Doug [emphasized] ever say to anybody, “I don’t have time.” And I learned that from him.

Aubrianna [00:15:56] Douglas held so many titles and accolades in his lifetime. But what would you say was his proudest accomplishment?

Lois [00:16:02] All that mattered to him was that he had four happy children and their families. And so that was the most important thing. He got a lot of, you might say, acknowledgement and recognition. Canada’s football Hall of Fames, the Canada Sports Hall of Fame, Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, they even have a centre at UBC where he graduated from named after him called the UBC Thunderbird Centre. It was great and he appreciated it. He didn’t do it for any of that. [emphasized] None of it. No. He felt that you had to be happy within yourself. That’s why that ability to know how to do the right thing at the right time, I tell people, and do it for the right reason. If you do it that way, you’re gonna have a pretty happy life. I have to say that.

Aubrianna [00:16:45] Why do you think charity and work for the community were such a big part of Douglas’s philosophy and practice in living his life?

Lois [00:16:53] Certainly. He and I met at UBC. And part of it was that one of the people that really inspired Doug, it was a football coach at UBC that had no children, but he and his wife— he didn’t even have a car, but he cared so much about his team and he said his mission was to make sure that those football players became good men off the field. And so he and his wife did so much and Doug remembers that they had nothing, but they were willing to give back. So UBC meant a lot to Doug, as we met there. And then he basically became involved with the alumni and was one of the people. They did have this wonderful Frank Gnup tournament that he was such a big part of. But then, as I say, that he was actually also a hockey player, Doug. He was one of those wonderful athletes that was pretty good at almost all sports. So he then—

[00:17:46] The actual Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Centre where we were so proud when the Olympics were in Vancouver, and that’s where the Paralympians played. And they used to call it sledge hockey, but they call it para hockey now, where we were there to watch the Olympics and to be in the Doug Mitchell Centre. And I’ll never forget that walking in, somebody said, “Who is this Doug Mitchell, anyway?” [laughs] Because it was a— you know, these were the Paralympics playing there that they all thought in 2010 that he passed on. [laughs] And so I introduced them. I said, “This is my husband. It’s named after him.” [laughs] So I’ll never forget that. It was kind of fun. The fruits of that labour and the UBC and how much it meant to us.

[00:18:32] And then that we had to move to Edmonton for my, you know, role as Lieutenant Governor. He loved it. He enjoyed it. And that’s why, I think, for him being [inaudible] and understanding about… about giving back, he continued on with all the things that he was doing. And I think that it was, like anything, he had so many different honours given to him, but it didn’t matter. He started a special foundation about giving back to sports. It was for all Albertans, and I was very proud of him. Some of these little small communities. It was really about grassroots sports that he gave back to.

[00:19:10] So for a number of years, this [inaudible] foundation has been giving back to Albertans in these small communities that we’re called grassroots. And so, again, that’s Doug. No need for any kind of recognition, just this foundation to award you a certain amount of money and to keep going. In fact, during COVID, I was so proud of him and he always had a great team that worked with him as volunteers, looked at all the applications and was able to write these cheques to these people that needed money to survive. But that’s Doug. That was Doug for you. Always doing it for the right reason.

Aubrianna [00:19:49] What did your husband mean to the many communities he was a part of?

Lois [00:19:53] And his big thing was, you know, of course, “If you really care, uh, you’ll make time.” And we were very fortunate. He had a wonderful law firm that was always behind him. And BLG was a huge part of Doug’s life. And our daughter and our granddaughter, believe it or not, they both went to U of A and became lawyers. So this is, like, three generations of lawyers. He just felt that… “Yes, you can have a very busy practice, but you always have time if you really wanna make it, to give back to what’s needed.” And it doesn’t mean money, it can mean give your time. Give your time, give your talent. That’s— He was a big one about ideas. Doug always thought out of the box. “How do you solve that problem?” For him, I never heard him ever say he didn’t have time. Ever.

[00:20:41] And I know how very proud he would’ve been to have… seen the teachers that not only they teach, but they also are coaching and doing things like that. I think that, more than anything, that’s what Doug felt. Good coaching, uh, and good teachers make a huge difference in your life. And so I wish he’d been with me on Monday to really meet these amazing people. These teachers that are actually going way beyond what’s expected of them and giving back and encouraging. Because part of it is, of course, everything is about encouraging people. One thing that Doug recognized, you don’t have to be good at everything. It’s okay to be good at some things and not so good at others.

[00:21:22] And that’s part of a team— is that he never, ever, ever complained that I was the world’s worst cook. My kids might have told me I was, but he never complained. And after 35 years, I just said to him, “Oh, I’m so tired of being a short-order cook.” And I remember he said, “Don’t worry, we can order in.” [laughs] So for the rest— [laughs] that’s what we did. [laughs] So it’s like any little challenge, he just overcame it. He also had a good sense of humour. I think you have to laugh at everything. And that’s why he knew nobody has to be perfect. And all of us have different things that we maybe are… are better at.

[00:21:58] Nobody has to be perfect. It’s okay to say, “You know what? I’m not so good at that, and that’s all right, but let somebody else, then. Let them shine.” So I think that that’s one thing that people understood about Doug that he celebrated, of course, in a huge way. Athletes. Our 30th year— we’re doing top male and female athletes in the universities across Canada. Last year he… he actually had a brilliant idea and he started the Alumni of the Year. That’s why I’m so proud of him, that this will be the 30th anniversary of these wonderful Athletes of the Year from the universities.

Aubrianna [00:22:32] So how would you like people to remember your husband? What can they do now to honour him?

Lois [00:22:37] So I think living in Toronto and having— you know, our two boys live in Toronto, our two girls live in Vancouver. It’s all part of being able to be a good Canadian, being proud of what we can do. So I-I would tell you that I think there’s enough, he feels, about honouring his memory. I know, appreciates everything that anybody is— does. And that’s why we appreciate the Edmonton Community Foundation and this wonderful History and Heroes. I know that he really appreciated that foundation.

Aubrianna [00:23:09] You have such significant experience in business, in volunteerism, and in marriage and family life. What advice would you give to younger folks?

Lois [00:23:17] Again, again, for most of us now, understanding how important that diversity is. Being so inclusive as much as we can. The one thing Doug and I were both brought up, I’ll tell you that, [emphasized] never judge people by the outside. Ever, ever, ever. And so because we have the same values, it was very easy to have that wonderful, happy life together. And even though there are many things that I wasn’t good at, Doug’s big thing was, too, that he was one of these very forgiving people and I learned that from him. You know what? Maybe get mad for five minutes, but no more than that. It’s a waste of energy.

[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]

Aubrianna [00:23:56] Listeners who would like to donate to the History and Heroes Foundation in memory of the late Douglas Mitchell can do so at ecfoundation.org/funds/mitchell-douglas.

Lisa [00:24:09] Thanks so much to Aubrianna Snow for bringing us this story. And thank you to Alan Ross, Rick LeLacheur, and Her Honour Lois Mitchell for sharing their time and memories of Douglas Mitchell with us.

Graeme [00:24:22] To find out more about the History and Heroes Foundation, go to HistoryAndHeroes.ca. We’ll have the link to their website and information about their endowment fund in our show notes.

Lisa [00:24:32] We’ll also have links to ECF’s Well Endowed Web Show and the latest on our blog. And don’t forget to check out our other upcoming granting deadlines and funding opportunities.

[The Well Endowed Podcast music plays in background of outro]

Graeme [00:24:42] That brings us to the end of the show. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Lisa [00:24:46] Yeah, thank you. If you enjoyed it, please share it with everyone you know.

Graeme [00:24:50] If you have time, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Sharing the show and leaving reviews are the best ways to help new listeners find us.

Lisa [00:24:57] You can also connect with us on Facebook where you can share your thoughts and see some pictures.

Graeme [00:25:01] Thanks again for tuning in. We’ve been your hosts, Graeme Lummer—

Lisa [00:25:05] And Lisa Pruden.

Graeme and Lisa [00:25:06] Until next time!

Andrew Paul [00:25:08] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—

Lisa [00:25:13] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.

Andrew [00:25:16] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.

Lisa [00:25:18] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com.

Andrew [00:25:21] Subscribe to us on iTunes—

Lisa [00:25:23] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.

Andrew [00:25:26] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.

Lisa [00:25:28] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.

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