September 21, 2020

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A fighter and a fundraiser

Doug Harvey has stepped down as chairman of the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Doug Harvey has stepped down as chairman of the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

On Aug. 24, 2015, the rug was pulled out from under Doug Harvey’s life.

The Winnipeg business mogul and philanthropist, president and CEO of DLH Group, was visiting the Maxim Truck and Trailer dealership that his company runs in Thunder Bay, Ont., when his phone rang.

Harvey received the news he had prostate cancer at the same time he was the incoming chairman of the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Harvey received the news he had prostate cancer at the same time he was the incoming chairman of the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I’d had a biopsy because they thought something was amiss and they called me and I happened to answer in Thunder Bay and, of course, they don’t give you any information over the phone, so you sit there and go…," Harvey recalls, his booming voice trailing off.

"I took the call from CancerCare (Manitoba), from the nurse telling me that ‘we have the results of your biopsy and you need to come in.’ Can you tell me about it? ‘No, we can’t talk about it, you have to come in.’ They’re not inviting you in to tell you everything is great."

Five years later, while casually chatting in the sun-dappled kitchen of his home on South Drive, Harvey shared how that call hit him.

"I was devastated," he says. "You hear the C-word and you associate it with death. I had my car in at the dealership in Thunder Bay, just getting ready to drive back to the lake. I got in the car and I just broke down, because I’m figuring I’m dead."

Asked whether he "lost it" on that car ride, he smiles and says: "Yeah, big time. Jan (Jan Shute, his common-law partner of 21 years) was back at the hotel. I phoned her and I’m a mess and she becomes a mess."

It was something of a cruel coincidence that, when he received that ominous call in 2015, Harvey was the incoming chairman of CancerCare Manitoba Foundation, the fundraising arm of the provincial cancer-fighting agency.

In 2015, Harvey was one of 11,854 Manitobans diagnosed with cancer. In that same year, 2,765 people died from the disease. Prostate cancer was the most common diagnosis for men in 2015. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

In 2015, Harvey was one of 11,854 Manitobans diagnosed with cancer. In that same year, 2,765 people died from the disease. Prostate cancer was the most common diagnosis for men in 2015. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The 67-year-old business tycoon has dedicated the last 16 years to the foundation, including five as chairman. On Wednesday, June 24 — the day after he shared his story with the Free Press — he attended his final board meeting, handing over the reins to Steve Kroft, CEO and executive chairman of the Conviron Group of Companies.

Not long after that fateful call, Harvey met with his doctor and received a chilling diagnosis.

"He told me I had prostate cancer. I had a high Gleason scale, which is the propensity for spreading and how virile it is. He gave me some options. I asked him, ‘If it was your prostate, what would you do?’ He said, ‘I’d take it out.’ So that’s what I had done."

He underwent surgery on Oct. 8 of that year, but the outcome wasn’t what he’d hoped for.

"Ninety per cent of men are cured from prostate cancer with either surgery and or radiation," Harvey notes. "I’m part of the 10 per cent that will never be cured. It means whether I die from it or I die from something else, my prostate cancer won’t go away."

Asked about his prognosis, Harvey, renowned for both his irrepressible sense of humour and giving straight answers to direct questions, smiles and replies: "The prognosis is death. But is it death in 20 years or death in 10 years? Through my whole cancer journey I’ve never tried to be Dr. Google."

In 2015, Harvey was one of 11,854 Manitobans diagnosed with cancer. In that same year, 2,765 people died from the disease. Prostate cancer was the most common diagnosis for men in 2015 (710 cases) and fourth overall.

It’s been estimated cancer kills about seven Manitobans every day of the year.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining why this prominent business and community leader spent the last 16 years raising money to ensure Manitoba’s cancer-fighters have world-class equipment.

Last year, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce honoured Harvey with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Last year, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce honoured Harvey with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

It would be a stretch to call it a silver lining, but having the worst kind of prostate cancer has given Harvey a unique perspective, one he was more than happy to share at his first meeting as chairman of the foundation.

"I love having fun," he says, flashing his trademark grin. "Humour helps me get through whatever stuff you’re dealing with. So I went into my first board meeting as chair and said, ‘I’d like to go around the table and ask everybody what they did this summer.’ I said, ‘If you don’t mind, I’ll go first.’ And I said, ‘I thought I’d be a much more empathetic leader if I went and got cancer, so this summer that’s what I did.

"Everyone’s going, um, and I said, ‘Guys, we’re here to help people with cancer. I got it. It’s not a secret. So I’m going to share my journey with you because I think it’s important that we can put faces with the work that we’re trying to get accomplished.

"I’m getting tremendous care. I think everybody gets tremendous care. When I’m asking you for a donation for CancerCare because, say, my dad has cancer, it’s a whole lot different than looking you in the eye and saying, ‘I have cancer. I’m getting treated. I know the world-class care. I know how important the money raised is on people’s journey. It’s a whole different thing.’"

When it comes to raising money and helping others, few have a resumé like the one this lifelong Winnipegger has compiled.

His first job after graduating from the University of Manitoba with a commerce degree in 1975 was with Ford Motor Credit, the finance arm of the car company. He hated it.

"I worked there about 18 months," he says. "I grew up in a lovely middle-class family where everybody told the truth and paid their bills. I remember my dad saying it’ll be the greatest experience of your life, because you deal with the three per cent of the population that don’t have the willingness or the ability to pay. It soon grated on me, because I’m a happy guy and I love people."

He joined International Harvester as a sales rep and in 1981, on April Fool’s Day, he bought into an ailing Winnipeg truck dealership and turned three consecutive years of quarter-million-dollar losses into 18 Maxim Truck and Trailer locations nationwide. His DLH Group has roughly 1,000 employees throughout Canada.

Last year, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce honoured him with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community.

Harvey has personally raised more than $750,000 in CancerCare’s annual Challenge for Life. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Harvey has personally raised more than $750,000 in CancerCare’s annual Challenge for Life. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"Doug has made a huge impact on Winnipeg in terms of progress, and leads by example," the group said in a news release. "He believes that when a city has the opportunity to do something world-class, the local community needs to get behind it."

In 2015, the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Manitoba named him the Outstanding Philanthropist of the year for his work with the CancerCare Foundation, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Assiniboine Park Conservancy.

He has served on more boards and industry committees than you can shake a stick at, including the Business Council of Manitoba, Western Canada Aviation Museum’s capital campaign, CentreVenture Development Corp., and the advisory board of Yes! Winnipeg.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of CancerCare’s fundraising arm and, when asked about its greatest achievement, Harvey gets straight to the point — it’s about raising money. A lot of money. Because cancer is expensive.

In the last 20 years, the foundation has raised more than $125 million for the fight against cancer in this province.

"That’s a big chunk of change," he says with pride. "When you’re in the fundraising arm our accomplishments are raising as much money as possible. We just finished the biggest fundraising year we’ve ever had, so that’s a great accomplishment to go out on. I think we raised $14.78 million for the year ending March 31.

"What we’ve done is raise a whole pile of money that goes to a pile of necessary things … Government in health care, they build the warehouse, but if you want to have flowers at the warehouse, if you want to have soft music playing… going to CancerCare is a very intimidating thing, so the more humanizing you can make it, the better. That’s not what government does. Government doesn’t fund research, so we raise money for research, we raise money for education."

Every year, Harvey walks in CancerCare’s Challenge for Life. He has personally raised more than $750,000, including more than $200,000 in 2018 and 2019. This year’s challenge was set for June 13, but the global pandemic has forced it to go virtual and it will take place Aug. 1-20. "You still have to walk, canoe, ride a bike, some kind of outdoor exercise for 20 kilometres or three hours," he notes of the online event.

He’s also proud that, under his watch, the foundation accumulated the land needed for a new $300-million expansion of CancerCare’s facilities, even though that project was shot down by the Pallister government in 2017 to rein in spending.

A lifelong Conservative, Harvey isn’t angry at the Tory government for quashing the project. "It will happen at some point because it has to," he predicts. "It will come back up at a later date… It’s very hard to be mad at a government that wants to make sure the money being spent is being spent wisely and effectively."

Those who know him describe Harvey as outgoing and an unabashed Winnipeg booster. He golfs every Tuesday, plays tennis every Saturday and, at 6-3 and 250 pounds, still resembles the hamburger-loving defensive end/offensive tackle who played for the Fort Garry Lions in the early 1970s.

He’s the father of two grown children — a daughter, 38, and a son, 35 — from a previous marriage, and his partner Jan has a daughter, 32 — "My bonus daughter" — from her first marriage.

"It’s the most wonderful relationship I could ever hope for, but we just haven’t (gotten married)," he said. "We have grandchildren now, so the kids say, ‘You’re illegitimate grandparents, c’mon you guys!’"

He is eager to share his own cancer journey, one with more than a few bumps along the road, especially during a global pandemic that has made fundraising, not to mention getting treatment, far more challenging.

"It (COVID-19) has changed how care is delivered," he says. "For instance, my last hormone shot I went to a private clinic. CancerCare provided the drug. I had my bloodwork done at a private clinic as opposed to CancerCare. I had my doctor’s appointment over the phone.

"But cancer hasn’t stopped. It doesn’t care about COVID-19. And people with cancer have compromised immune systems, so you can imagine the fear of people having cancer and having to go every day to a facility where people are sick and they are having chemo or radiation or whatever.

"We have brilliant people here. Manitobans should be extremely proud. I just think we have a fabulous facility. I don’t even like to call it a facility, because it’s so much more. The warmth of the people and the caring of the people. This is a community that cares."

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

 

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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