In Vancouver during Expo 86, Patrick Reid, the commissioner-general of the exposition, accompanied Diana, Princess of Wales, through one of the pavilions. Diana, slender and overly warm in a wool dress, fainted and was rushed away. The press was agog. The next day, at another event, she apologized to Mr. Reid for causing such a fuss. “My dear, don’t apologize,” he told her. “It’s been all over the papers. We have people coming here now who would never have come before.” She replied, “In that case, I guess you owe me.”
Whether promoting his country at international fairs, contributing to the design of the Canadian flag or assisting Rick Hansen in his Man in Motion world wheelchair tour, Mr. Reid, who died on Dec. 5 in Richmond, B.C., of a heart attack at 91, was a booster of all things Canadian. In 1987, his efforts were recognized with the award of Officer of the Order of Canada.
While protocol was of primary importance in his various ambassadorial roles, it occasionally placed Mr. Reid in a quandary. During the 1970 world’s fair in Osaka, Japan, Mr. Reid, then-chairman of the College of Commissioners-General, accompanied Emperor Hirohito on a tour of the Canadian pavilion. Mr. Reid understood that Japanese custom forbade the touching of an emperor, but when the diminutive ruler took a misstep, the 6-foot-5 Mr. Reid grabbed the Emperor to avert a fall. He was rewarded with a smile.
William Adrian Lockhart Patrick Reid was born on Nov. 14, 1924, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father, William, was a police officer; his mother, Kathleen, was a homemaker who looked after young William and his older sister, Muriel. The greatest influence on William’s early years was his maternal grandfather, a horse farmer from County Donegal. In his 1995 memoir, Wild Colonial Boy, Mr. Reid wrote of longing to get back to his grandfather’s farm where he spent his holidays. He resented that his parents made him live in town to go to school.
When the Second World War began, he was determined to enlist in the army but his parents insisted that he go to university. Although he was only 15, he passed the entrance exams for the law faculty of Queen’s University in Belfast. A year later, his height was sufficient to convince an enrolment officer that he was old enough to enlist. He graduated from the Royal Military College Sandhurst as the top cadet before joining the North Irish Cavalry regiment in Italy.
By 1945, he had escaped capture and been wounded by shrapnel. “The constant carnage and a minor wound shocked me out of my teenage immortality,” he later wrote. He received the Military Cross for bravery. His regiment became a tank support for the 1st Canadian Division that included Vancouver’s Seaforth Highlanders. His unit received the Maple Leaf emblem as a symbol of honour in battle. The Maple Leaf would go on to play an increasingly important role in his life.
After the war, Mr. Reid became involved in the British reoccupation of Malaya and, from 1945 to 1947, commanded the company responsible for the policing of postwar Singapore. In 1948, he received his bachelor of laws degree from Queen’s University (credits were given for time in the military) but he had no interest in practising law.
Instead, he joined NATO as a staff officer at the Allied Forces Northern Europe headquarters in Oslo. From 1948 to 1954, he visited nearly 50 countries on a variety of assignments. After an exchange program at what is now the Canadian Army Command and Staff College in Kingston, Ont., he decided he needed a break from military life.
Australia was one option for a new future, but Canada held the greatest appeal and he returned to it as an immigrant in 1956, settling in Vancouver. With the move, he also decided to use his fourth name, Patrick, as his first name.
After working briefly as a janitor, he began directing and acting in television commercials, which were “truly terrible,” recalled his wife, Alison Reid. “It was the early days of television and no one knew what they were doing so everyone was an expert,” she said.
The couple first met in Vancouver when a neighbour invited 19-year-old Alison Cumming and her widowed mother to a political event. “It was St. Patrick’s Day,” Ms. Reid said. “I didn’t stand a chance.” They married in December, 1958. Never one to call attention to himself, Mr. Reid was appreciative of her desire for a small, no-fuss wedding. The couple had two children, Amanda and Michael.
After a period spent in advertising, Mr. Reid moved his young family to Ottawa. It was the early 1960s and the federal government was planning for the upcoming centennial celebration of Confederation. Mr. Reid was appointed director of the exhibition commission responsible for hundreds of Canadian displays and exhibits around the world, including Expo 67.
Prime Minister Lester Pearson was determined that a new Canadian flag would be flying when the international fair opened and its design became a hot topic. Opposition Leader John Diefenbaker wanted to stick with the Red Ensign. Mr. Pearson wanted three red maple leaves over a white background with two blue borders. Mr. Reid’s department had been using red and white (which were proclaimed Canada’s national colours in 1921), along with the Maple Leaf to symbolize Canada. When Mr. Pearson asked the exhibition commission to design a new flag, it made sense to combine the two.
Mr. Reid thought that the new design should be simple enough for a child to draw, that it should appear the same from both sides and that it had to be highly visible from a distance. Jacques St-Cyr, one of his best graphic designers, was assigned the task. Mr. St-Cyr’s original design had 13 points to the Maple Leaf; Mr. Reid had him reduce them to 11. Later, he had the daughter of a friend sew a mock-up flag. In his memoir, Mr. Reid wrote that it was hoisted up the flagpole outside 24 Sussex Drive so that Mr. Pearson would see it when he woke up. The Prime Minister approved. The flag was unveiled on Parliament Hill on Dec. 15, 1964. (On the website for the Department of Canadian Heritage, several names are credited with input into design of the flag but there is no mention of Mr. Reid. He was fond of saying, “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.”)
After the success of Expo 67, Mr. Reid continued to oversee expositions around the world. From 1979 to 1983, he served as president of the International Bureau of Expositions in Paris. He then returned to Canada to take up the task of overseeing Expo 86, the theme of which was transportation. It fit with the aim of a young Paralympian named Rick Hansen who was planning a world tour in his wheelchair to raise money to find a cure for spinal injury, and to increase awareness of the ability of people with disabilities.
Mr. Hansen met Mr. Reid in 1984 at a Summer Games for the disabled where they were both honorary co-chairs. “He had what I consider to be a very progressive and strong empathy for people with disabilities. Later, I came to learn it was because of his connection with veterans who’d become disabled,” Mr. Hansen said.
What neither man knew when they first met was that the physiotherapist Mr. Hansen had been seeing for a shoulder injury was Mr. Reid’s daughter, Amanda. The couple began dating at the end of the year. When Mr. Hansen attended a Christmas party at the Reids’ home, Mr. Reid asked how he had negotiated three steps leading to the front door. “The same way I’m going to wheel around the world,” Mr. Hansen replied.
The lead-up to Expo 86 had provided Mr. Hansen with international connections to facilitate his gruelling journey through 34 countries, which began from Vancouver in 1985. The tour lasted 26 months, with Mr. Reid lending support and valuable advice along the way. After Mr. Hansen’s audience with Pope John Paul II in Rome, Mr. Reid told Mr. Hansen he needed to slow down because of the toll it was taking on members of the tour team, including Amanda, who married Mr. Hansen in 1987.
“I listened to him in a way that I wouldn’t have listened to anyone else,” Mr. Hansen said. “He told me, ‘You can believe anything is possible, but not everything.’”
Mr. Reid eventually helped to establish the Rick Hansen Foundation and joined its board of directors.
He considered his close-knit family to be his greatest accomplishment. He leaves his wife, Alison, children, Amanda and Mike, and five grandchildren.
“He was a modest man,” Mr. Hansen said. “If he knew this was being written about him, his eyebrows would raise. Then, if we were able to convince him that what we were trying to do was inspire Canadians to learn from his experience and make a difference, I think he’d say, ‘Okay. Go ahead.’”
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