Meet Robert Wordham: The Importance Of Giving Back

Bob Wordham is an inspiring man for many reasons: he started running half marathons at 65 years old and at 82 he’s taken on the challenge of running 1000km, he’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a youth mental health charity that he’s now the board chair of, and together with his wife, Joanne, they run a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Mississauga.

We’ve had the pleasure of knowing Bob and his wife Joanne for over 20 years. We know them to be a dedicated and generous couple who are driven to improve the lives of others.

Reflecting on his life so far, Bob tells us that he, “never had a day I didn’t like.” That alone should tell you a lot about the kind of person Bob is. An optimist who makes the best of every situation, and who encourages others to do the same. We sat down with Bob to learn more about the work he does through their fund and why giving back is so important to him.

TU Board Chair Bob Wordham near the finish

Why he started running

This year, at age 82, Bob set himself the goal of running 1000km as part of the Unbreakable 1000 challenge. Given this and the fact that he runs two or three times a week (yes, even in the winter!), it’s surprising to hear that he wasn’t always a runner. Bob did his first run when he was 40 and didn’t start running consistently until he was 62. He’s always believed that you can do anything you set your mind to (within reason, of course) and he wanted to show that to his kids. At 40 years old and having never run before, he bet his kids he could complete a 15km race. And he did⁠—in 75 minutes!

When he was 62 his daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. She got involved with Run for the Cure and asked her dad to run the 5km race. He did and raised $6000. Then, for his 65th birthday, feeling he needed a bit more of a challenge he decided to run a half marathon. He raised $89,000. He ran it again for his 75th birthday and raised $70,000. By his 80th birthday he was involved with Team Unbreakable, and he raised an incredible $108,000 for the charity running another half marathon.

Team Unbreakable and how he got involved

Team Unbreakable is a running program that helps kids combat depression and anxiety. By teaching kids to run, they learn how physical health improves mental health and they build confidence, self-esteem, and resilience. The name Team Unbreakable (the charity was formerly called Cameron Helps) came from a participant of the program saying, “When I’m running, I feel unbreakable.”

Bob met someone involved with the charity when he was training for a half marathon and was invited to a board meeting. At the meeting Bob asked if they had a strategic plan, they didn’t, so he volunteered his business expertise to put one in place. Under his leadership he’s led the charity to profitability, ensuring it’ll be sustainable for years to come.

Why youth mental health is an important cause to him

“If we don’t look after our youth, we don’t have a tomorrow. There are so many changes facing the way we work and live, and it’s up to the youth to get around all that and find a way forward,” Bob explained, “The future of the world is what the kids are going to solve.”

Bob says he can’t fix global warming or the government, but he can support youth in this small way. The rising percentage of our youth dealing with mental health problems or illness is staggering: suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and youth aged 10 to 19 in Canada. He believes Team Unbreakable’s running program is particularly impactful because it helps address both mental and physical illness, such as obesity and juvenile diabetes.

Why he decided to set up a charitable fund

Bob and Joanne feel like they’ve been very lucky. “Sure, I’ve worked hard, but lots of people work hard and aren’t as lucky. We want to give back and help people who haven’t been as lucky,” he explained.

Leaving school at age 15, Bob didn’t finish high school. His dad died when he was 12 and his family couldn’t continue spending money on his schooling. He had a string of “crappy jobs”, but hard work and a few lucky breaks—including a state scholarship that allowed him to complete his engineering degree—had a huge impact on his career, giving him the opportunity to immigrate to Canada in 1961. He went on to work for multinational companies like Rolls Royce and General Electric, eventually starting his own consulting business in 1988 that expanded with the acquisition of Ratcliffs Canada Inc., a copper and brass rolling mill, in 1994.

In 2000, Bob and Joanne decided that they wanted to set up a charitable fund. Rather than setting up their own fund and having to manage all the legal and accounting aspects themselves, they decided to go to the Community Foundation of Mississauga. They set up a self-directed fund which they allocate to Team Unbreakable, an ESL program for new immigrants, after school programs for underprivileged youth, and to a local store that hires people who have learning disabilities. They’ve also set up five bursaries at Durham College for students who are the first in their family to go to college. When asked why they set up the bursaries, Bob said he thinks these students might be more thankful and likely to pass it on.

“As you get older, not everyone has the ability to do these things. If you can, you should. We owe it to society,” says Bob, “I’m lucky I have the capacity and ambition—I feel a commitment to the world. If I have the ability to do it and I don’t, I’m letting the world down. I can’t just give up because I’m tired.” Inspiring words from someone who truly lives his values.

What he’s looking forward to

Having recently completed his 1000km goal (congratulations, Bob!) he’s excited to be getting Team Unbreakable’s running program into even more schools. He’s looking forward to spending Christmas at his house in Vermont with all his grandkids, and next year he’s hoping to take the whole family to Greece.

Thank you, Bob, for sitting down with us to share the wonderful work you do. Davis Rea is proud to know you and to support your runs for Team Unbreakable. To learn more about Team Unbreakable and how you can donate (every little bit helps!) visit their website http://www.teamunbreakable.ca/.

If you’d like to make charitable giving part of your financial plan and discuss the best ways to donate, please contact our financial planning team.  

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