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David Onley – Believer in Possibilities

The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario meets with Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace
By LgOntario – Own work, Public Domain,

David Onley died Saturday, January 14th, 2023 at the age of 72. He was a journalist for Citytv and CP24, author, and Ontario’s 28th lieutenant- governor. The official announcement of his death was made by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s current lieutenant-governor.

My wife, Karen, and I, offer our prayers to Ruth Ann, their children: Jonathan, Robert, and Michael, and to their extended families. We pray that you will feel God’s comfort in your sadness.

We were blessed to know The Honourable David C. Onley for 20 years. His close friend, Doug Faulkner, introduced us to him. It wasn’t a typical first meeting.

Doug Faulkner organized a protest of the plan of the Toronto Transit Commission (T.T.C.) to introduce a 30-minute pick-up window for their Wheel-Trans disabled riders. The group’s main point was that this would affect the quality of their lives.

People using Wheel-Trans would have to use more of their energy just waiting to be picked up. The pick-up times were not always accurate. This made it more difficult to keep a job, because passengers didn’t know if they would be reliably on time for work. They would have a harder time being on time for any classes to further their education. They might be late for doctors’ appointments.

This protest was a civil rights action brought together by Doug Faulkner so I stayed in the background in my wheelchair. However, the Citytv cameraman kept following me around. I said, “Talk to Doug Faulkner. He’s over there.” I pointed to where he was. The cameraman was not interested in Doug. He wouldn’t stop following me. I moved further away, but he wouldn’t give up following me. I thought, “That’s one persistent cameraman. He doesn’t take no for an answer.”

Then, David saw me with the cameraman. He came over to me. I was a little bit upset at the attention. I thought, “What? Where did David Onley come from? Now, I’m being interviewed. Um. Uh. Lord, please get me out of this. Doug is the one they should be talking with. Okay. Okay. I get it. You want me to help with the story.” You know how you have one idea of the role you will play in a cause and God has a completely different one. I believe that was the case that day.

David asked me what my thoughts were on the issue. That was my introduction to David.

A small group of disabled people with a lot of help from Citytv, David Onley, and many disability advocates who got the word out, stopped the 30-minute pick up window from being instituted for a number of months. That was a major achievement!

When God shows up, expect the unexpected.

I share some thoughts about David’s impact upon our lives, character, faith, and the gift of his laughter.

David’s passionate advocacy for people with disabilities inspired me, If David with his challenges can do that, so can I with mine. Both David and Doug are now present with the Lord.

We were shocked and saddened to learn of David’s death.

He touched our lives with his laughter. When he laughed, we couldn’t help but laugh with him. David helped me to see that not all of one’s life should be about being serious. The healing power of laughter has its place.

He showed us that loving people and really listening to them was more important than your station in life. When you show you care, it makes a difference in people’s lives.

David was a man of deep faith in his Lord. Through the challenges he faced with polio from childhood and the lives of people he touched, he lived out his calling.

Addressing disability, accessibility, and inclusion, are still major issues in our society. In an interview on TVO in 2015 with Steve Paikin, David Onley said that there can be no economic recovery without addressing the issue that about 50% of people with disabilities in Canada remain unemployed. He said that is about twice the unemployment rate of 24% during the Great Depression. David said over 1.5 million Canadians are disabled. Fifty percent of that is 750,000 people who have no work.

David emphasized that having three-quarters of a million of unemployed people is a demographic too large to ignore.

We need to work together for inclusive communities, where those with both visible and hidden challenges such as mental illness, have full participation in our society. Verna Myers sums it up best. “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” When the disabled are welcome at all the dances, that will be when we can say we have an inclusive world.

David and Ruth Ann danced that dance better than most people we know. Thank you for that.

Later in that TVO interview David Onley cited a report entitled Rethinking Disability. It was commissioned by then Finance Minister, Jim Flarhety,.who said, “Our government is committed to helping more people with disabilities be employed by encouraging inclusive workplaces and removing barriers to employment,” he said. “But we can’t do it alone. Employers in the private sector also have a role in employing Canadians with disabilities.” 1

The major finding of the document was that contrary to the thinking that the disabled are off work more with illness and that many file WSIB claims, the opposite is true. When leaders in the business community approached David asking why this is so, he said that people with disabilities value having a job – any job. They know how hard it is for them to get one. They stay much longer with their employers.

David sought to show that until all people with disabilities are given equal opportunities to contribute to society, we cannot say we have a fully inclusive world.

That will only change with continued determination of government and community working together to make that happen.

In his inaugural speech on becoming lieutenant-governor in 2007 David said, “…But there is another image I would prefer you take away today, from just several minutes ago. Even after taking the oath of office, I needed the arm of my Chief Aide de Camp to navigate the final few steps to this chair.

Even as the longest journey begins with a single step, so too, the final steps to accessibility for an individual to achieve their potential may depend simply on another person’s strong arm, a helping hand and an open mind. I am asking you today, to be that person, be that role model.” 2

Let us follow his example by being that person.

At the conclusion of his speech, he quoted George Bernard Shaw. “Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were, and say why not.”

Thank you, David, for helping us believe in the possibility of improved inclusion for people with disabilities.

Mountains can be climbed with the help of that one person who says, “I’m here. Take my hand. I won’t let you go. We’ll climb this mountain together.”

I offer this quote from the Bible that I believe would have warmed David’s heart.

“Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.” (I Corinthians 13:7a, J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Never stop loving others. Never stop believing and working together for a more accessible society. God is the Creator of the impossible.

The grave is but the threshold of eternity. What a world were this, how unendurable its weight, If they whom death hath sundered, did not meet again!” — Robert Southey

David, in the arms of our Father in Heaven, you are fully healed.

We confess we’re a little envious. You get to have all the fun at God’s kingdom party while we’re stuck here with the daily challenges of living in this world.

But we’ll do our best with God’s help to do that. We’ll try to do a better job of loving God and each other. We’ll spend more time laughing, having fun, and valuing the beauty of God’s creation. That’s how we believe you and Ruth Ann lived. Your love for one another is evident in your photos.

This is not good-bye. You have left this world on a far away trip that some day we’ll also take.

See you in Heaven, David.




Dr. Kevin Osborne is the Dean of Psychology and President of Student Affairs for St. James the Elder University. He is s therapist, writer, poet, and singer. He helps people in their inner healing journey. Dr. Kevin Osborne lives in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, with his wife, Karen. She is the Registrar for SJTEU. She is also a counsellor. Karen and Kevin are powned by their 20-year-old cat, Katherine, a.k.a. Her Royal Furriness, Princess Katherine of Timmins.