Another story I remember, I was 13 or 14 and had never had a new piece of hockey equipment. A scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs was coming, and a man who ran a sporting-goods store, not a man of great wealth, said: “I have something for you,” and gave me a new pair of skates. I scored three goals that night [and later became captain of Harvard’s hockey team].
How do we encourage families to get more involved when they are so busy?
You have to work smarter, and you can’t work harder. I see it with my five daughters with our eight grandchildren really making careful choices about their time. I think doing things with your children is important for volunteer activities my advice is to try to choose some activities where your children can be involved.
Your five daughters are very active public servants. You talk about inspiring generosity in children. What was your secret?
I don’t think we did anything out of a recipe book. But I supposed they developed an interest in things beyond their immediate needs, and that has taken them into their life’s work. All five from an early age were involved in what I would call philanthropic activities.
I remember we were in England on sabbatical leave in Cambridge, and my [eldest daughter] was four at the time, and we went to the little village church on Sundays and there was a congregation of 40 or 50. A very elderly hunchback man sat in the back pew, and the first Sunday, she went back and sat with him. She did that each Sunday.
What could parents say to their kids to inspire that kind of behaviour in them?
One hopes that parents expose their children to the needs of others, to broaden their appreciation of the society we live in – there is an awful lot of need. And very often, those of us blessed to live in very comfortable homes sometimes get cut off from the realities of society. I think that notion of developing a responsibility to use one’s treasure as well as one talent to satisfy needs other than one’s own are an important part of psychological and emotional development in children.
Where do you see the future going for philanthropy in Canada?
I think a steady progression toward a smarter, more caring nation.
Is there a specific goal we should be setting for ourselves?
By 2017, the notion of helping one’s neighbour is considered a core feature of Canadian citizenship – as opposed to an extracurricular activity.
This interview has been edited and condensed.