Supercat – Honoured by Phillip Penna and Brennain Lloyd
Don Keating was born and raised on the prairies of Silver Creek Manitoba. He grew up with the values that come from living on a farm. He was not afraid of hard work. Don excelled in baseball, hockey and track in Russell during his school days. He was a loyal friend and a man who treasured his family connections.
Donald’s biggest passion in life was his belief in social justice and peace. He worked to bring this about in every facet of his life from serving with the RCAF in the 40’s, to ministering with the United Church in Sherridan, Oakville, Treherne and Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 50’s, to civil rights actions inspired by Saul Alinsky, Tom Gaudette, and Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago in the 60’s, to community organizing in Riverdale and teaching at York University in Toronto in the 70’s and then, in rediscovering his voice after his horrendous car accident in 1979.
Don was ahead of his time. He wrote about house churches – a Christian church movement born after WWII – long before anyone understood their meaning. His series of critical articles published in The Winnipeg Tribune about the church in the early 60’s started a conversation about the ability to minister outside the walls of a church. He developed a style of community organizing that became a template for students, both in school and those learning hands on.
Don valued being a Canadian. He was actively involved in politics, starting from within his community and moving naturally to municipalities, provinces and the country as a whole. Voting was an inheritance he felt we should all honour and participate in. Don believed that within each of us we have the power to make it happen, to bring about positive change, not to just let the status quo run the show. Nicknamed “Supercat” back in his organizing days, he went on to write about his experiences in community organizing in The Power to Make it Happen. After his car accident he worked to regain his sense of who he was, and through reading his journals, was able to rediscover his core values and passions and wrote about these experiences in his second book, Supercat.
Don lived in many places in his life, from Winnipeg to Chicago to Toronto, and he was a regular sight around North Bay during the past 20 years, mailing his daily letters to friends and family far and wide, popping into the health food store to pick up his syrup and fresh peanut butter, visiting his bank to write up a money order for some social justice charity in need, singing with Gateway Harmony Barbershoppers and Interlink, sharing weekly church services, bringing along a freshly baked pie or date square to any celebration he attended, lighting candles for peace outside his local MP’s office, stopping into the local book store to buy a few new books, taking film in to get many copies made to share with everyone, and giving out his Supercat book by way of introduction to those he did not know.
Don was a character – someone you would not forget once met. Camping and his love for the land, his VW campers, CBC radio, playing cards, folk and country music, yodelling, playing his guitar and harmonica, his ongoing carpentry projects, late night phone-calls to discuss world news, wearing his McLean tartan – Don had a zest for life that age would not slow down. You always felt at home when you entered his well-lived in home – his warmth and personality greeted you along with the smells of his baking. He surrounded himself with books and photos of those he loved. While newspapers, reports and printed documents were often everywhere, they were his way of keeping everyone in touch with news he felt was important.
Those who were mentored by Don over the years span the globe. He was a knowledgeable, informed coach in community organizing, and he released a legion of community organizers across Canada, and several states in the US and in parts of Asia. His style was to be grounded in a passion that grew out of intolerance for situations where people were oppressed by systems and abusive relationships. And still he retained a sense of humour even when confronted by very demoralizing situations. He never gave up, and his steadfast example gave hope to many.
Don died in the late evening of March 3, 2009 at the age of 83, following a fall in his home in early January. He will not be forgotten. Dad, Grandpa, Don, Supercat – father, grandfather, brother, friend and mentor – his spirit lives in all of us as we question a wrong and not just let it go by unspoken, as we share a genuine smile with a new friend, as we sing a song of praise or light a candle for peace. Don Keating’s very being has inspired us to act with conviction.