Creating Impact, Candid Conversations with Leaders in Life, Business and Philanthropy
A conversation with Dr. Peter Legge, O.B.C., O.St.J., K.C.S.J., F.C.G.A., O.St.S., M.A., B.B.A., C.S.P., C.P.A.E., HoF, LL.D (Hon), D.Tech
When you hear the word philanthropy, what comes to mind? Writing a large cheque to a charity? Donating a piece of art for a fundraiser? Gifting appreciated shares of a company you’ve invested in to a foundation? While we all choose to define philanthropy in a manner personal to us, the word itself originates from the Latin meaning, “love to mankind”.
In this new editorial, “Creating Impact, Candid Conversations with Leaders in Life, Business and Philanthropy”, we share with you intimate conversations with dynamic, successful and accomplished people, who also have very big hearts and a deep passion to leave the world a better place for future generations.
Our first candid conversation is with Dr. Peter Legge. Peter is the Chairman and CEO of Canada Wide Media, the largest privately-held publishing company in Western Canada, a company he co-founded in Vancouver in 1976. Peter is a world-renowned speaker and an author of 23 best-selling books. Through Canada Wide, his family and Peter’s own direct efforts, millions of dollars have been raised and donated and countless hours of service have been spent over the past four decades. He believes that yes, we can all write cheques, yet we can all raise far more money and do much greater good than any cheques we can individually write using our influence and connections, and sharing our time and talents. Peter is truly a leader in the Vancouver community and exemplifies what it means to be a philanthropist.
Peter was born in 1942 in London, England, and like so many accomplished Canadian business people, immigrated to Canada with his family as a child. At age 12, Peter’s father sent for him and his mother to come to Canada after having been there for some time, searching for work and a place to settle the family for a better life. Peter and his mother crossed the Atlantic onboard a ship from Southampton, England, bound for New York City. They then made their way to Seattle, Washington by Greyhound Bus and finally landed in New Westminster, BC via train from Seattle.
To begin our conversation, I asked Peter about where his desire to give back came from. He immediately shared with me a story about an instance with a perfect stranger in Seattle, when he and his mother arrived after their long, cross-country journey on the Greyhound from New York.
“I was so hungry after that bus ride”, Peter explained, “all I wanted to eat was a burger, chips (his British word for French Fries) and a Coke. The problem was, my mom was literally, flat broke. She had almost no money, yet she bought me the burger, chips and a Coke and had hot water to drink for herself”. Peter then shared, “all of a sudden, this woman comes up to our table. She said she’d like to pay for my meal, and she did. That was a moment that lit a SPARK inside me about the generosity of the human spirit and it has stuck with me ever since”.
Within his own family, Peter shared that his most important influence was his dad. “When he first came to Canada to set up a new life for his family, he would work picking berries, serving at soup kitchens, anything to make things meet”, Peter described. Soon after Peter and his mom arrived from England, Peter’s dad had a contract lined for a job in Kitimat that ended up falling through. Peter shared, “in that moment, my dad declared that Canada was a failure and it was time for everyone to go home. Then, that same day the contract fell through, he saw an ad for Gilley Brothers in New Westminster. He decided he would give it one last shot. He shined his shoes, put on his best clothes, walked in and “sold himself” as the right man for the job. They hired him right away and he stayed there for 25 years until he retired”.
“He was a man of his community”, Peter said. “When he first came to New Westminster, he joined the Lions Club, Kingsmen, Rotary, and other service clubs. This is where he built many life-long friendships and business relationships. The community named him “Mr. New Westminster” and when he died, over 1000 people came to his funeral”, Peter shared, “I believe, they came to say “THANK YOU BERNIE”, thank you because you gave back and built this community!” Observing what his father did, how he gave back and how many lives he touched truly ignited Peter’s “servant spirit”.
Fast forward to his adult years, Peter married Kay and they had three daughters, Samantha, Rebecca and Amanda. Today, both Samantha and Rebecca are actively-involved with Canada Wide Media, making it a true family business. During our lunch together, Peter shared that over the years in business, he focused on Canada Wide playing an active role in giving back to the community and that if his daughters observed what he and Kay did, that those values they exemplified would become their own values and continue to live within them.
Peter also shared that utilizing Canada Wide’s incredible business network has helped to “multiply” the giving effect through business as a leverage point for doing good. He explained to me that “I can raise far more money than any cheques I could ever write. Over the years, Canada Wide has given millions of dollars of ad and page space to organizations looking to raise money. I always say to these people asking for donations, I can give you $5,000 or I can give you space for an add that goes to 100,000 readers. That’s philanthropy!”
Throughout the conversation with Peter, it was evident that he has a deep passion to help others in any way he can. At one point, he asked me a question that really made me think differently about how to give. “Tell me this”, Peter said, “what if a business in your building is struggling and they need 1000 sheets of Xerox paper or some other office supplies. Give it to them! If you think about the root of the word philanthropy it’s “help mankind”. Giving Xerox paper to your business neighbour, that’s philanthropy!”
As Peter described it, at the core of philanthropy is a “servant’s heart”. As humans we innately want to give and help others, it’s why we feel so good when we do and receive nothing in return. In closing our time together, I asked him what he would share with young people today regarding philanthropy and giving. His response was: “Find a need and fill it! Join a committee, get involved! It’s about serving others and helping your fellow man. You can’t “out give” and philanthropy is not all about the money”.
Peter’s last statement was one that stuck with me. We need the money to make things happen and, perhaps more importantly, we need the people with “servant hearts” to mobilize that money and make the future of this planet a bright one for generations to come.