Dr. Sweeny’s curiosity gets him inside the Spec
Sometimes I spend days digging through documents or knocking on doors to get a story.
Other times, the story just strolls into The Spectator newsroom and parks its walker beside my desk.
That is, in fact, how I came to meet Dr. Patrick Sweeny, 88, and his pals Henry Hadley, 93, and Donald McDougall, 83, a few weeks ago. Being the nosy journalist I am, I thought I’d say hello and ask who they were.
I was delighted with the answer.
The distinguished gents are residents of the Pearl and Pine Retirement Residence in Burlington. It is a place that encourages a Living List — residents can submit a wish and staff do their best to fulfil it.
Dr. Sweeny’s wish was to see how The Spectator gets made. The retired family doctor and his wife Patricia (a nurse he met while working at Hamilton General Hospital) have been subscribers since 1958.
The doctor has devoured the news while raising a family, running an innovative family medicine practice in Burlington (Dr. Sweeny was a pioneer, bringing nurse practitioners, social workers and dieticians into his clinic model) and doing locum work in England and Yukon.
He gravitates to health and world stories, with a smattering of sports on the side.
“It’s curiosity,” he says. “I’m just sort of interested in how things work.”
He had me at curiosity.
Henry, an engineer who worked at Stelco, and Donald, a former Proctor and Gamble projects manager, are no different. They too have read The Spec for decades.
Henry, though, is now legally blind. However, the three lifelong learners, always eager to expand their horizons, meet for breakfast every morning and discuss the news of the day.
The trio got the VIP tour of 44 Frid St., including a chat with editor-in-chief Paul Berton and a visit to our press room, where the former Washington Post presses that printed the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate stories now turn out The Hamilton Spectator as well as several other Ontario newspapers.
“I was interested to see how the different colours get on the page and how they fold it up,” says Dr. Sweeny.
Henry was awed by the precision of the entire Spec operation, sometimes called The Daily Miracle.
“The strictness of the timelines,” he says. “And the rapidity with which you make changes.”
The Living List comes true with the help of Pearl and Pine’s management and front line staff, says marketing manager Megg Markettos. Each wish must cost less than $500. (Carriage Game Homes is a sponsor.)
Most cost far less than that, a testament perhaps to enjoying the small pleasures in life. And certainly a nod to the words of inventor Henry Ford who said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.”
There was the resident who wished for one really strong cup of coffee.
He was driven to a Starbucks where a red carpet (literally!) was rolled out for him, a barista made his coffee exactly the way he likes it and a seat was reserved for him to sit and enjoy. He brought his son and his favourite server from the retirement residence dining room to join him.
Another resident had lunch and swapped fish tales with champion angler Bob Izumi.
A couple visited the home they built themselves and raised their family in on Hamilton Mountain. New owners had recently bought the house and were planning major renovations, but the original couple were able to visit before any drastic changes were made. They shared the story and history of the house with the younger owners.
Then there is the resident who wished to see a Raptors game with a seat “close enough to see the sweat.” He recently learned he is going to next season’s opener.
While he is at the game, Pearl and Pine will have a Raptors party so the rest of the residents can watch it on TV and maybe even spot their friend in the crowd.
One woman was taken to Toronto to meet with the host of her favourite classical music radio program.
Another woman whose wish is to learn to swim, is being taken shopping for a new bathing suit and will have a private swim lesson.
As Dr. Sweeny says: “There’s still so much to learn.”
Susan Clairmont’s commentary appears regularly in The Spectator. firstname.lastname@example.org
905-526-3539 | @susanclairmont