Editorial: Working Class Heroes

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Posted on February 21st 2014 8:29 PM

What makes certain people extraordinary? What is that thing inside some individuals that makes them ‘heroes’ – whether they rise to the occasion in an emergency situation or, more commonly, they repeatedly and unfailingly offer themselves for the betterment of their communities?

Before typing out this column, I devoted a few minutes to seeing if there was any research on this topic. There isn’t a whole lot that’s said to be conclusive, but Jeremy Frimer, a professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg, is one of a few academics devoted to answering these sorts of questions. Here’s my oversimplified interpretation of what he and others like him have to say: Not surprisingly, extraordinary folks are selfless people who take charge of situations; who inherently respond sympathetically to others; and who have a strong sense of moral and social responsibility. Fear does not dissuade them from their goals. They instinctively want to “take something bad and turn it into something good” and they naturally expect positive outcomes.

That sure sounds like a lot of people I’ve met over my many years in trucking. While I’m the first to agree the word ‘hero’ is often diluted – too leniently misdirected as worship for celebrities and beauty instead of reserved for what I believe are more deserving members of society  like, say, soldiers and civil rights leaders – I don’t at the same time believe a hero requires super powers or needs to be able to lift cars off of baby carriages with his bare hands. Trucking – I’m convinced, more than any other industry – is filled with people who otherwise appear ordinary, but are cherished by others as extraordinary for consistently and unconditionally doing positive things that genuinely improve peoples’ lives.

Recently, OTA had the privilege of honouring three very different, but equally extraordinary people in trucking whose deeds and personal character have touched countless loved ones and strangers alike.

The Trudgeon family of London, Ontario were able to spend this past Christmas and many others hereafter in the loving company of their patriarch, Don Trudgeon because of the heroic actions of a fellow trucker – Stephen Lill, a driver with Contrans Flatbed. Stephen, who was named the 2013 Bridgestone-OTA Truck Hero at our annual convention, witnessed Don’s tanker truck roll over at the QEW-Royal Windsor onramp in Mississauga last year and immediately rushed to the scene. As diesel fuel pooled around the wreckage, some bystanders tried to dissuade Stephen from attending to Don, who was trapped inside the crushed cab and suffering from life-threatening injuries. “They said no one could have survived that so don’t bother going to the truck,” Lill explained. “I sked them ‘have you checked?’ They didn’t. So I said ‘get out of my way, I’m checking.” (Watch our video detailing Stephen’s actions here).

Stephen stayed with Don for 30 minutes until an air ambulance arrived, keeping him semi-conscious while calming tensions from bystanders who continued to implore Stephen to flee for fear the tanker would blow up. Although he couldn’t physically rescue Don, Stephen ensured hope wouldn’t be extinguished. “I needed him to know I was there and I wouldn’t leave him no matter what.” Enough said.

Not as dramatic, but no less affective are the everyday engagements of Bison Transport’s Norm Sneyd, who received the prestigious Shaw Tracking-OTA Service to Industry Award. As do countless others in this industry, I consider Norm a personal friend, so believe me when I say there could be no more popular choice.

Norm is one of the most genuine, most admired people in our industry. As a natural leader whose business outlook was forged decades ago as a driver, he can relate to every facet of trucking and inspire people at every level of the business. His dedication to the industry is matched only by his commitment to helping others in need. Whether he’s building houses for Habitat for Humanity, running for Relay For Life or raising money for all the other charities I can’t keep track of, Norm is always putting others first. “Norm,” says his boss and friend Don Streuber, “genuinely cares about everybody else, right to their core.” Truer words couldn’t  be applied here.

Chris Bender, a driver for Steed Standard Transport in Stratford, Ont., and an Ontario Road Knight, also goes about his business quietly, but similarly leaves a lasting impression on those who come into contact with him. His name may not be as recognizable as Norm’s, but anyone who heard his acceptance speech for 2013 Volvo Trucks-OTA Driver of the Year award won’t soon forget him. His impassioned testimonial for the business of trucking, his colleagues and his fellow man was truly rousing – not that anyone should be surprised since teaching and inspiring people is pretty much like breathing to Bender. When he’s not mentoring new drivers at his company, he’s serving as a chaplain at the local Legion, hospitals and nursing homes. He is also very much in demand by area community groups as a motivational speaker; and somewhere in his busy calendar, Chris also finds time to coach boys and girls minor hockey. Regardless of what you think a hero is supposed to be, I’m sure the community of Stratford has its own definition figured out.

I’m still not sure what makes someone extraordinary or a ‘hero.’ The author Henry Miller said “the ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts” and that gets close to the heart of it for me. These three men I wrote about are linked not so much by the things they do, but what they repeatedly choose not to do. Unlike too many of us, they refuse to be bystanders. At their own risk and expense, they proceed forward – sometimes suddenly, but mostly incrementally – changing lives and bringing joy to others.

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