Interview by Kathryn Dorrell
David Onley has worn many hats over the years. Today, the husband, father, author, champion of disability rights, former weatherman, broadcaster and occasional space reporter (take a breath) is perhaps best known for his current role, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. In this prestigious position, Onley carries out both constitutional and ceremonial duties in the legislature, and at hundreds of formal events across the province.
Born in Midland, Ont., Onley’s parents were committed Baptists. Today, Onley considers himself an evangelical Christian and with his wife, Ruth Ann, attends Safe Haven Worship Centre in Pickering, Ont., where he once served an as elder.
Here, Onley talks to Childview about his work, faith and where he sees himself in the future.
What does it mean to you to be the Queen’s representative for Ontario?
It’s a position of responsibility but also one of enormous honour. I never could have imagined doing this. I try to reflect the values and virtues of the Queen.
What are the greatest rewards of your current position?
I’ve met all sorts of people across the province of Ontario that are not famous but are flat-out fascinating – and doing fascinating things. That has impressed me the most. I’ve had the opportunity to travel around and the whole province works as well as it does because of volunteers. We simply would not have the quality of life that we do without our volunteers.
I understand you were discipled at a young age by a Roman Catholic priest and a Baptist pastor. Tell me about that.
I spent a lot of time as a child in hospital having painful surgeries, as a result of having polio. Both of these people came to visit me when my parents couldn’t always be there and they met deep, personal spiritual needs. At the time I didn’t understand the difference between different [aspects of Christianity], but this early experience did give me a broader perspective of different faiths.
You were diagnosed with polio at age three. How has your faith helped you get through the dark patches in your life?
You either believe that what’s happening to you is random, or a greater purpose is at hand. I don’t believe in coincidences. Tough times are not a series of bad breaks, because things happen for a reason.
How has your faith shaped your outlook on life?
It’s central to the person that I am, and it’s formed the value system that I live by. In my current role, I represent people irrespective of faith and reach out to people of all faiths with a sense of equality. I attend events put on by a great range of faiths, and what impresses me is that they all have the same outlook on people with disabilities.
How do you feel about being a role model for people with disabilities?
I do my job every day and I am seen in the public, I am aware of this but it’s not something that I concentrate on. But it is important for people to have role models—someone and something to aspire to. I like to think that I’ve changed the dialogue on people with disabilities. I was given great opportunities by employers—at CFRB radio and CityTV, for example—who looked through my disability. I would like to be remembered as someone who showed people how to look past a disability, whatever it may be, and to see the value in the individual.
What would you like to do when you leave your current role?
I know I won’t be involved in politics. I maintained a strict neutrality throughout my journalism years and having just spent six years where being apolitical is very important, it would be too tricky to become partisan. I could see teaching, possibly, at a college or university.
INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.
This article was published on January 8, 2014.