A Letter From Hugh Smythe

The Foundation arose following the night of July 25, 1944, south of Caen, during the invasion of France. The 30th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery was protecting a river crossing, Just after dark “the Luftwaffe came after the bridges…dropping incendiaries as well as anti-personnel bombs that sent out a swath of fragments…Our trucks were hit and burning…I was helping pull a burning tarpaulin off an ammunition truck when I was hit a terrible blow in my back”. Forty-nine-year-old Conn Smythe was paralyzed from the waist down, with a jagged piece of metal still sticking out of his back.

Much history followed. The war defined the needs and medical progress the solutions; with others he helped found the Canadian Paraplegic Association, with initial offices in Maple Leaf Gardens. Again, with the help of others, Lyndhurst Lodge was created to bring the specialized multi-disciplinary team approach needed to carry these patients from hopeless dependency to long-lived high function. In a short period he became actively involved with the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, with the Variety Club, the Center for Crippled Children, Variety Village, and a network of summer camps. You don’t like the label “Crippled”? Nearly all these centers have changed the names. He argued that it was a lot easier to raise funds for Crippled Children than for a Smythe Center, (or the variety of alternatives that have arisen). Perhaps the last major project that he sponsored was the Ontario Center for the Deaf (also since renamed). He was told that severe deafness was not that common; he responded that many people seemed to go deaf as soon as he asked for a donation!

This seems like a lot, but he had an ongoing interest in the structure and function of these organizations. He tried to ensure that every dollar raised went to benefit the children, the Veterans, or the deaf. He (and others like him) fought to keep administrative costs low. In provincial and national bodies this can and has been a difficult and losing battle. But he would not support agencies in which 80% of revenue is lost in overhead. His efforts were focused and deep.

He was also good at leverage. He would make a significant donation, conditional upon larger donations from the petitioner, who would also end up supporting other worthy projects.

Conn Smythe died on the 18th of November 1980. His Foundation had been structured with advice from his lawyer, John Mullen, and long time friends George Mara, and Hap Day. There were no family members on the Board before his death, and Tom and I were added as (unpaid) executors of the estate as well as Directors of the Foundation. We have tried to keep the established patterns, of supporting initiatives we knew; run by people we admired and trusted. Startup programs were attractive, if they had reasonable expectations of becoming self-sustaining. We didn’t win them all, but our record has been close to a Stanley Cup level.

I wish you all well. It would be nice to have more winners.

Hugh Smythe

November 2009

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