The Donor: Paul Kavanagh
The Gift: Creating Operation Veteran
The Reason: To honour Canadian veterans
Paul Kavanagh was visiting the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa a few years ago with his family when he watched an aging veteran move through the cafeteria line.
“He had on a blue jacket with all his medals, polished boots, everything,” recalled Dr. Kavanagh, a periodontist in Montreal. “When he got to the front of the line, he had only $5 for a $7 meal.” Dr. Kavanagh recalled how the veteran fumbled to find the extra $2 while the cashier berated him for holding up the line. The veteran left with his meal, embarrassed, and Dr. Kavanagh quietly paid the $2 to the cashier.
The incident stuck with him and a few days later he contacted the museum. He didn’t complain about the cashier. Instead, Dr. Kavanagh offered an idea. Why not start a program to offer veterans a free meal? The museum agreed and Dr. Kavanagh began donating money for the meals. The program has served more than 4,000 complimentary meals since 2009 and private donations now cover most of the costs.
Dr. Kavanagh didn’t stop there.
He launched a school program to bring students to the museum on Remembrance Day so they could meet veterans and learn about Canadian history. The program also works in conjunction with the museum’s online educational services. Dr. Kavanagh started with 11 schools from across the country and now more than 50 participate in the Remembrance Day program. Many schools also raise money for Operation Veteran. When he can, Dr. Kavanagh, who comes from a long line of veterans, travels to schools to meet students and talk about the program, veterans and history. “I think that when kids hear things about veterans, they only think of World War I and World War II,” he said. “These kids are forgetting their Canadian heritage.”
While the meal and school programs have been gratifying, Dr. Kavanagh said his best experiences have come from watching the veterans tell their stories to the students. “It has been an eye opener,” he said. “You realize how lucky we are.”