MANITOWANING—Colin Pick joined the army in Britain at the tender age of 15, spending three years in military school before heading off to serve overseas, but the spirit of volunteerism was already deeply ingrained from his upbringing.
“I was raised in a small country village near the border of England and Scotland,” he said. “Volunteering was really just a way of life. If someone needed help with the cattle or bringing in the hay, it was just something you did.”
Like many young men in a rural community at the time, adventure called and the military offered a world of opportunity and education that was not readily available in rural communities. In the military, he learned a lot about the importance of teamwork and he learned the skills of teaching that would be a hallmark of his future careers and volunteerism.
“In the military you learn that if one looks good, everyone looks good,” he said. During his military service, Mr. Pick served in the British protectorate of Aden, now part of southern Yemen. At the time, a period following the Suez Crisis, Aden was Britain’s main location in the Middle East, but was quickly becoming irrelevant to a post-India British Empire.
A local insurgency was very active in opposing the British presence in the region and the echoes of Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein’s pan Arab philosophy was gripping much of the Middle East at the time. While Mr. Pick was in Aden, the first rains in ages arrived bringing with them tremendous flooding and human suffering.
“During the day you were slogging through water up to your knees doing your level best to help, rescuing people who had been stranded in the flooding,” he recalled. “Later that night, you knew that a lot of the same people were slipping back to toss explosives at you. You were fair game to all of them.”
The trauma of those early experiences was to haunt him for the rest of his life, but they also provided a lot of the impetus for his later volunteer work.
“I found my own therapy in work,” he said, spending many diverting hours in his garden. “But after I blew my knee out, I had to find something else to keep me busy.”
Following his military service, Mr. Pick emigrated from England to Canada and began a 26-year police career with the Sudbury Regional Police. His teaching skills came in very handy as he took up working with the force’s competitive pistol team.
“I get a lot of satisfaction in being able to pass on skills,” he said. “One of the greatest things for me was when someone I had helped improve their skills then went on to help someone else.”
Mr. Pick began working with the St. John’s Ambulance Service while in Sudbury and when he moved to the Island he discovered that the Island did not have a branch. “It was one of those things that they had in Sudbury that they didn’t have here,” he said. “I brought it up at the Legion and they thought it would be a good thing to get going here.” He still does some work with St. John’s, but his mobility issues these days has his role more advisory and honourary than active service in the field. “I still do activities,” he said. “Awards and stuff.”
Mr. Pick spent several years working with the Legion as well, but he did not engage right away after arriving in Sudbury. “I had joined the militia at that time,” he said, noting that he felt it was inappropriate to work in the Legion while still serving.
“I have a huge respect for the older ones, the fellas who put it all on the line for the folks back home,” he said. “I had a little taste of it for the five years that I served in the military, some of these guys were in the thick of it for years.”
In both his military and his police careers, Mr. Pick said that he found great satisfaction in helping people. “You are often helping them directly in the aftermath of tragedy, or you are helping them to get the bad guys off the street so people can feel safer in their communities,” he said. Helping people is a hallmark of his work with veterans as well.
Many of the older veterans, and newer service personnel, come home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), something Mr. Pick grew to know too much about from both his working careers. There were many skills and coping tactics that he found useful in working through his own issues that he has been able to pass on.
“(Traditionally as a member of the military and the police services) you are taught to keep it all in,” he said. But “manning up” comes at a tremendous personal and psychological cost.
“As a police officer I was very used to filling in forms,” he laughed. “But for a lot of these guys it was very frustrating. I just do it.” For years Mr. Pick has worked to assist veterans in accessing the benefits and services they were entitled to.
Despite his fondness for the Legion and its work, Mr. Pick moved into working with the War Pensioners of Canada. He found them to be an organization that was able to be more nimble in dealing with veterans’ issues. “With the Legion it takes so much time to move something up the chain, sometimes it is a year-and-a-half before it gets from the local level to the Dominion Command,” he said. “With the War Pensioners we can move things up in a month-and-a-half.”
Mr. Pick’s latest volunteer effort has been working with the Manitoulin North Shore Injured Workers Group. “There are a lot of similarities between the injuries of workers and those of veterans,” he said. “But while the plight of the veterans is well known from a long period of activity and focus in the media, there is much less known about what injured workers face after their accidents. When you compare the benefits that are available to injured veterans to how injured workers are treated, well there is no comparison.”
People think that “it won’t happen to me” or that there are services and supports available to injured workers, he said. “But they have no idea until they get to walk in those shoes.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Pick has volunteered his services and skills to his community and beyond, but he said that although altruism was ingrained in him from childhood, he really doesn’t think of volunteering as an unpaid activity.
“I get tremendous satisfaction from all of the things that I do,” he said. “I haven’t done any of it alone. You meet a great bunch of people through volunteering in the community and it really enriches your own life.”
Mr. Pick was also, most recently, elected to the board of the Manitoulin Legal Clinic. “Well,” he laughs. “That’s a whole other story.”