Lessons learned from one of the best sportswriters in the country


When Jim Kernaghan left the Toronto Star for the London Free Press in the early 1980s, it was the Big Smokes’ loss and the Forest City’s gain.

He was arguably the best sports writer this city has seen and one of the best in the country.

Personally, some 15 years after his arrival, it also became my great benefit.

When I joined the Free Press sports department, I was stationed next to Kernie, as we all called him.

A gentleman, mentor, leader, who became a friend.

This preeminent sportswriter passed away Sunday, his family gathered around him.

It was just last month that I received a call from Kernie asking for a small favour. For the many times he helped me out – including walking me to my car when I was pregnant and giving me a night mask for my eyes, that was soothing and kept out the light because I had insomnia  – I was glad to be able to assist him.

Kernie had a 3/4 tape he wanted converted so that his grandchildren could see a 1980 commercial produced for The Star that featured him. So good was he at what he did, The Star focussed its ad campaign on him.  By then he had written many times about Muhammad Ali and interviewed the likes of Pele, Rocky Marciano, Bobby Orr, Rocket Richard.

Since I work for CTV London now, he wondered if I could help with the tape. I think he knew then that he wouldn’t be around too much longer.

We have a 3/4 player that sits idle and has for some time. But it wasn’t hooked up to any other player. A co-worker suggested Producers Post on Wharncliffe Road might be able to help. I took the tape there and for a small fee, they converted it to digital for him.

Here is the 30-second commercial:

Kernie and I had daily talks over the better part of a decade while working side by side.

We’d talk about everything from cold remedies to our families to the ups and downs of life. And of course, sports.

He told me about picking up Ali and the other boxers that came to Toronto at the airport. Sometimes he drove them from their matches to their hotel rooms. That gave him a great opportunity to talk to them alone. He was crafty that way and it was what needed to be done to get a better story than everyone else.

I loved reading Kernie’s columns, because you always learned  something – including new words. He would challenge his readers and that included in the words he chose.

He knew human nature well and understood what made people tick. That insight helped him pen columns that were written with clarity, humour and compassion.

That compassion extended to everyone else around him. He had time for everybody. One of the last assignments we were on together was covering a basketball game at Western. An old friend was there and talked to Kernie at length after the game. Kernie missed his first deadline because he thought it more important to talk to the man than be rude and tell him he was busy.

Kernie’s son Terence, the youngest of his four children, told me that what he will treasure most about his father is that he saw the humanity in everyone.

“One of the things he says a lot (is) that the world is not a matter of black and white. That’s where the humanity is. It used to drive him bonkers when people would write, ‘A person that” instead of “A person who.’ When people say ‘A person who,’ they are removing the humanity from that person.”

One of his father’s favourite sayings was: “No problems, only solutions.” Terence says that bit of wisdom is life changing.

Kernie survived an abdominal aortic aneurysm a couple of years ago that almost took his life and it led to a renewed spiritualism.

While in the hospital, struggling to survive he had strange dreams, including one in which he was in a competition with another dying man and they were battling to see who could live the longest. The man he was up against was a South American boxer.

Terence says he still gets chills just thinking about that.

That health fight a couple of years ago took its toll. Kernie hadn’t been feeling well recently and had been at the hospital last week. He found out he had cancer.

He went into the hospital Friday and his condition deteriorated quickly. Terence says he told his father then that the family wanted him to get better, but it was also OK to let go. “It’s probably some of the hardest things you ever have to say.”

Terence says he fights against canonizing people after they die. “I wouldn’t say that he was perfect, he was just a decent, decent man.”

Rest in peace, my friend. Godspeed until we meet again.


Irate father calls his child names for getting a white shirt dirty

A recent study in Quebec showed up to 30 per cent of children are neglected.

While some may question the findings of the study, it’s notable in several ways.

Many children are afraid to be left alone. While you can distract them for a little while by playing a movie, soon they want mommy or daddy.

Children who don’t feel secure, turn into adults with issues.

Our society needs to realize that children deserve our unconditional love and support. They need to feel safe and secure. They need to have their needs met.

When they aren’t loved unconditionally, the world becomes a scary place for them and that can lead to all kinds of problems for the child that linger well into adulthood and may never go away.

The reason I mention this study is because being neglectful can be just as traumatic to a child as yelling at them or abusing them emotionally or physically.

While at a soccer tournament recently, I was in a car parked beside a man and his son. The son had on a white uniform and he spilled something on it.

The father’s reaction was absolutely appalling. He called his son a putz several times. “Why do you have to be such a putz?” He let the F-bomb fly over and over as he tried to clean the uniform.  He asked the boy what was wrong with him. The child looked down to the ground and placed his head against the back of the front car seat as he sat in the back.

I rolled down my window to let the father know that his cursing and name calling could be heard.

The mother then walked over and was herself astounded by her husband’s reaction.

It’s a white uniform, she told him, and it was adults who gave him the food. What do you expect?

At that point, I offered my Clorox wipes to see if they could get the uniform clean. I told them that my son’s uniform was also white and getting stains out was a constant.

The father settled down and the mother was embarrassed and asked me if I had heard “the domestic.”

The child looked at me with a smile and said thank you.

We cannot treat our children this way. Children are going to spill things. They are going to cry. They will throw temper tantrums but we are adults. We can deal with this. We need to tell our children that we love them and treasure them.

It’s the first step to solving some of the problems that plague our world.


Arms deal versus right livelihood

Much has been written and stated about the controversial arms deal between the Saudi Arabian government and General Dynamics Land Systems in London.

While the Saudis have an abysmal record on human rights, the federal government claims to be keeping an eye on how that country will be using the combat vehicles.

But more and more people are questioning the morality of the deal and Canada’s decision to proceed.

Sweden cancelled a defence deal with the Saudis last year and endured much criticism. So does that mean the decision wasn’t the correct one?

Jobs are at stake, reputations and there could be lawsuits.

Still, when we think about how those vehicles could be used, it’s chilling.

Should we not care about our fellow man living under an oppressive regime? What about children?

Human Rights Watch writes: “Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest and torture and ill-treatment in detention. Saudi judges routinely sentence defendants to floggings of hundreds of lashes.

“Judges can order arrest and detention, including of children, at their discretion. Children can be tried for capital crimes and sentenced as adults if physical signs of puberty exist.”

As well, “Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system remains intact despite government pledges to abolish it. Under this system, ministerial policies and practices forbid women from obtaining a passport, marrying, traveling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son.”

There is a Buddhist tenet that speaks to making a living in a way that doesn’t hurt others.

It’s called Right Livelihood and it suggest we find a way to earn a paycheque that does not cause harm and ideally that is ethically positive.

Now things can get really complicated when you think about Right Livelihood. Does the way I earn a living hurt others? Not easy to answer, but worth reflecting upon.

Manning leaves with stain on his career

As NFL quarterback Peyton Manning retired yesterday from what is a Hall of Fame career, he said he had no regrets.

Of all the things he said at the podium those words jumped out at me.

For Manning, with his “simple guy” act (even channeling Forest Gump at one point), has a stain on his career.

If you don’t know about the sexual assault allegations against him, read this story below.


Instead of honouring a confidentiality agreement in a court settlement, Manning and his father wrote a book smearing the women at the centre of the allegations.

The court documents are pretty damning and yet Manning says he’s leaving with no regrets.

He needs to do the right thing and come clean. Everybody loves their sports heroes – so it’s far easier to overlook his actions or dismiss them – but his are not the actions of a hero.

He got one last stab in with his words  “no regrets,” meaning he will likely never acknowledge the harm he has truly caused.

Please let’s talk because people’s lives depend on it

It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day. As Canadians from coast to coast Tweet, text and talk, the money Bell will donate to mental health initiatives will add up quickly. (Five cents for every hashtag)

Bell Let’s Talk Day was launched in 2010 and since that time more than $100 million has been raised.

The idea of this day is to get Canadians talking about mental health in the same way we would cancer or any other illness. It will lessen the stigma that is still so prevalent.

I know we still have a long way to go.

Yesterday in the newsroom, I took a call from a man telling me of his plans to commit suicide. And I know of at least two people in London who took their own lives yesterday.

This man had called once before – about six months ago.

At that time he was desperate. He had just been discharged from hospital and had nowhere to go.

An accident had left him unable to work and surgery to try to repair his condition was botched, he said.

He had gone through all of his resources and was now on the street. I could sense how scared and frustrated he was.

Fast forward to yesterday and this man called again to say he had no prospects in life. His condition wasn’t going to get better. He had no way to make any money. He felt the health care system, particularly the mental health system, had failed him and so many others.

This time there was no desperation in his voice. He calmly told me how he planned to end his life. His wife was living out west and she was coming to say good-bye. He said his therapist and other family and friends knew of his plan. He said he no longer wanted to be a burden to anyone.

What he wanted from me was an opportunity to call attention to the sad state of services for those with mental health conditions. He didn’t want anyone else to go through what he is.

It was chilling. I believed he was going to do what he planned. I didn’t know what to say. All I could really say was sorry.

After the conversation, I alerted authorities. They took it seriously and I gave them the information they needed, including where to find him.

Today I am left wondering about his man. Can somebody save him? If there is an intervention, will he try at some other point in time.

As I reflect on this sad situation, I realize just how much we still need to do to take this mental health crisis seriously.

Please let’s talk.

Cummins continually fought for common man and planet earth

Photo I took of Joe Cummins at his London home for a story about pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes.

Photo I took of Joe Cummins at his London home for a story about pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes.


Prof. Joe Cummins name was well known to me. As a journalist in London, I was aware of his environmental work, particularly his fight to educate people about the dangers of PCBs. He was often in the news as he drew attention to a PCB dump site at a transformer plant in London.

I admired him as he stood up to big companies who tried to paint him in a less than flattering light.

Joe didn’t care – and I call him Joe because he signed his notes to me as Joe – as he knew somebody had to stand strong.

Joe passed away on January 8 here in London after an illness.

I first met Joe in 2012 in line at a visitation for my former colleague at The London Free Press, Peter Geigen-Miller. Another colleague introduced us and asked if I knew who Joe Cummins was. I said, “Of course, I do.”

He smiled and shook my hand, but didn’t have any need to call attention to himself. He was there to pay respects to Peter, who wrote about environment issues for The Free Press and had cause to often write about Joe.

About a year later, I sat down with Joe to write a story about his latest campaign to protect the environment and his fellow man. He was approaching 80 at this time, but was still so passionate and so caring.

His health was failing and his voice was raspy and weak. It was hard to hear him at times.

But what he was telling me was so important. Joe was calling attention to pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes.

He was taking on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and wanted answers about contaminated drinking water.

He wanted the MOE to make public the 17 sampling sites where tests were conducted on drinking that contained pharmaceuticals, hormones and bisphenol A. His own drinking water at his London townhouse contained some of these pharmaceuticals, he had learned.

When he found out his water contained the antibiotic erythromycin he was particularly concerned because of his  allergy to this drug. Joe’s water was from the Elgin Area Water Supply System, which treats Lake Erie water.

I wrote a story about this that was published by the U.K.’s Global Development Observer.

For my article I asked the MOE why the water sample sites were not made public. The ministry sent me a statement saying that the study was a voluntary survey. “The ministry is committed to keeping the identity of participating municipal water systems anonymous. The results show that the quality of their drinking water is good.”

When the MOE refuses to say where the water was tested, that raised red flags and Joe was the first to jump on that.

The MOE report was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment and Cummins chastised the journal for failing to involve the full details of the study, namely the sample sites. “This is a serious abuse of scientific reporting which will allow bureaucrats and politicians to control and decide how and which data are to be used”, he said.

Joe travelled to London, England in 2013 to discuss the issue of pharmaceuticals in drinking water.

He continued to keep me apprised of his work and his latest messages were about his questions to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over tomato juice produced in southwestern Ontario that he maintained was never properly approved for commercial production.

I will miss Joe Cummins – his courage, conviction and conscience. And I feel more vulnerable without his eyes on those who abuse the environment.


Meeting the remarkable boy who gave Christmas joy to the world


I had the pleasure of meeting Evan Leversage in 2012 for a story published by The Harness Edge.

Evan had a smile on his face the whole time I sat and talked with his mom Nicole at a coffee shop in London. He radiated warmth, happiness and a kind of  charisma you don’t normally see in children. The little guy had a spirit that was absolutely irrepressible. He truly was somebody you just couldn’t forget.

I’ve kept in touch with Nicole since then and have followed Evan’s story closely. I sent him some books in September after I heard there were no more treatment options for him. His mom said he liked her to read to him.

When I heard Evan had passed away December 6, I was profoundly sad. Many others are as well, as illustrated by the outpouring of support for his family after the news he had died. Indeed, Evan has been receiving support from around the world, ever since his town of St. George gave him Christmas in October.

But the real gift came from Evan himself because as the town came together to give him one last Christmas, the world looked in on the small community and saw something wondrous unfolding. Some love, faith and magic shone bright from St. George and touched so many around the globe.

In a recent video posted by Nicole on Facebook, Evan seems to have understood his fate.

He hit the record button on the iPad while Nicole was driving. He asks, “You want to see my videos? Go on my iPad. Then he says, “Good-bye guys. Good-bye.”

Good-bye Evan and thank you. Hope to see you again some day.


Here’s my story, published in December, 2012:

Racing Restores Faith

By Kathy Rumleski

Four-year-old Evan Wellwood Leversage is fearless. He touches the colourful shirt of a monster of a man he meets in a coffee shop and then takes the man’s keys. The big guy turns around and finds a kid with a smile to melt a snowman. He tickles Evan and the pair laugh.

Next in the coffee shop, where he’s gathered with his mom, Nicole Wellwood, brother Tyson, 2, and a family friend, he taps a laptop computer that an intense typist is busily working on. The man looks up, smiles at Evan and they’re fast friends.

But his real fearlessness comes from the way he stares down cancer, faces the treatments, endless trips to the hospital, his vision loss and speech impairment with remarkable resilience.

Evan has a malignant tumour deep in his brain stem. It is inoperable. The best he gets is time.

“His life could be turned in the blink of a heartbeat, upside down,” said his mother, whose voice breaks many times during an interview. But she shows amazing strength as well.

She’s from a well known harness racing family with a love for horses in her blood. Her father was Harold (Buddy) Wellwood, who passed away suddenly 12 years ago. He was best known for the standout pacing mare Odies Fame who won horse of the year honours and set a plethora of records during her career.

Nicole’s grandfather, also named Harold, was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2001.

She appreciates that her three sons (her oldest is Logan, who is six) also have a love of horses.

One of Evan’s greatest delights is spending time with his grandmother Linda Wellwood and her Standardbreds.

“He’s taken a great liking to going to the barn,” Nicole said. “It seems fitting. It’s very neat to have my children around that and be able to have them go to the barn again. That is part of my history and part of our heritage.”

As this kinship with equines runs in the family, alas, so does cancer.

Buddy’s sister Frances died of leukemia at 14. Buddy himself fought cancer when Nicole was a child. “He underwent chemo and many hospital stays when I was very young,” she recalled.

And now Evan.

The most recent tests at the London Health Sciences Centre reveal Evan’s tumour has stabilized. But the cancer has affected different areas of his body and also his speech.

Wellwood said there may be a device that can help Evan communicate. The right side of his body doesn’t function as well as his left and he also has lost some of his vision. Wellwood is bracing herself for Evan’s total loss of sight as that will happen if the tumour grows even a hair of an inch.

Evan’s last chemotherapy treatment was in February. She decided that was enough on his little body.

“Chemo takes its toll on a young child. There’s no safe drug out there for children. I want him to have the best quality of life.”

And right now he does have that quality. “Everyone who meets him is inspired by his happiness and love of life,” she said.

Evan, who refers to his tumour as a bump in his head, knows that he is different from other children. He also associates the golden ribbon that symbolizes childhood cancer awareness as something special. At the coffee shop, he pulls a gold ribbon off the Christmas tree and becomes upset when he can’t take it home.

“He’ll see it and he lights up,” said Wellwood. “I know he’s got the concept. It’s very heartwarming.”

Wellwood is heavily involved in raising awareness of childhood cancer. It’s her mission to make as many people as possible understand what the gold ribbon campaign is all about and also the bravery of the children with cancer.

Earlier this month she got a tattoo with Evan’s name and a gold ribbon on her right wrist. It was done at Endless Boundaries Tattoo in Ingersoll as part of a Childcan awareness event.

She said getting the tattoo was “uncomfortable” but she thought about Evan, who had to be poked every day for 72 weeks.

Wellwood has also put her support behind a young cancer survivor from London, named Stephanie Simmons, who is petitioning Canada Post to create a commemorative stamp with a gold ribbon to honour the many children with cancer.

Stephanie’s campaign progress can be seen at http://www.goldribboncampaign.com.

Wellwood is also organizing events that benefit Childcan, a charity that supports families dealing with cancer. In September, she organized Clinton Raceway’s Horsin’ Around for Childhood Cancer, which raised $15,500 for Childcan.

Evan got to meet the drivers, who donated their fees to the cause and some of them, such as Jody Jamieson and Doug McNair, have stayed in touch with the family and keep updated on Evan’s status.

Jamieson donated gold gloves to all the drivers who participated in the challenge and following the event, the gloves were autographed and given to the children facing cancer.

Also at the track that day were members of the Hands on Horses Program, an initiative of the Standardbred Revenue Allocation Marketing Committee. Members took the children and their siblings for laps around the track with the horses and the kids loved it, Wellwood said.

“Clinton did more then raise money and awareness, they helped dreams come true,” she said.

She will continue to organize fundraising events for Childcan, she promised, including the annual Horsin’ Around event. The last one in Clinton brought back great memories for Wellwood. She spent a lot of time there when she was younger and loves its family-friendly atmosphere.

She travelled with her father to many tracks around the province and is grateful she had this time with him before he died. She is also thankful for Odies Fame.

“That horse brought happiness. I’ll never forget. She gave me, probably, the best two years,” Wellwood said. “Odie made horse racing feel like a family, the amount of support we received and to be part of something so big.”

Wellwood loves to watch the tape of Odie, who died this past spring, winning the Breeders Crown in October 1999. It was the richest night of harness racing in Canada at the time with more than $5.3 million in purse money.

She was at Mohawk Raceway for that special race. She remembers track announcer Frank Salive’s voice and the crowd urging Odie on. “When I watch the Breeder’s Crown video from that night, if you listen to the cheering, that cheering was all for her. I can hear people (yelling), ‘Come on Odie.’  That night will never, ever fade from my mind,” she said.

Salive recalls the exciting race as well. “The call of that Crown was something like, ‘Odies Fame will spread her fame around the world,’” he said.

“It was a real thrill whenever the home team won the Breeders Crown and the emotion of Odies Fame was right up there with Lifetime Dream in 1993.”

Wellwood said this fall’s event didn’t have the same feeling. “I went to the Breeders Crown this year. There were phenomenal horses, but I haven’t seen the cheering, the heart and the emotion as I did (with Odie).”

Odies’ win that night brought tears to Buddy Wellwood’s eyes, seen as he entered the winner’s circle.

Buddy died the following June. He had just returned home from a race with Odies Fame at Woodbine when he hit the floor. His daughter, who was 16 at the time, said alcoholism contributed to his death.

“Addictions played a big role,” she said. “He had decided he wanted to get sober. But he wasn’t willing to walk away from his business and get the help.”

It is believed Buddy had a seizure the night he died and then aspirated. “It was a tragic loss,” she said.

The next day she raced one of their horses at Flamboro and said that is what her father would have wanted. The track held a minute of silence for Buddy.

Wellwood thinks about her dad every day. “Where I live right now, there are a lot of memories of my father. We’re only about 15 minutes away from Flamboro Downs where Dad finished his racing career. I know Dad is somewhere, part of this equation.”

In September, she moved to St. George in Brant County to be closer to her mother and also farther away from an abusive partner. With such difficulties behind her, she is now focusing on her kids.

“I’ve got three little boys, and they light up my world. Evan’s always been my huge inspiration because if he can do it, and he does it with a smile, there’s no reason I can’t fight to be the best person I can.”

While being a single parent is hard, she knows it was the best move for her family. “I have started re-connecting with people in the (racing) business that I had lost touch with over the last 10 years.  Now she’s reaching out again.

She is also focusing on her relationship with her mother, who has been a ‘phenomenal’ grandmother to her three boys. “I’m thankful. She’s seen the worst in me and she’s still here. I have been a very resentful person here and there in my life with what’s all happened. I’m still very thankful that she’s with me. I have to honour her for that.”

She’s also thankful for the harness racing community which has reached out to her during her dark times. “They’re all part of something that has been a family to me.”

She is extremely distressed about what’s happening to the horse racing industry as the provincial government ends a 15 year partnership with it.

She’s hoping an agreement can be reached that will stabilize the industry and let it remain one of the top racing jurisdictions in North America.

“That agreement was very much working,” she said of the slots at racetrack program.

“We all need to stay together on this one. We all need to speak up. It affects not even just the people within the business.”

She feels she owes it the industry to help in this battle to save the beleaguered harness racing community.

She understands its fight for survival only too well from her personal experiences. Yet even with such an uncertain and scary future, the individuals who make a living racing continue to give to others from their own pockets, she said.

“When it comes to Evan, these local tracks are stepping up. It’s not just childhood cancer that they’re giving to, they give back to (other) charities. They give back to their communities above and beyond. It’s a huge asset. Even when their business was in jeopardy, they didn’t stop. It is one big family and we all need to fight. You can’t give up your fight.”

As Christmas approaches, Wellwood is feeling particularly hopeful this year. Childcan has found a sponsor who will be providing some gifts for the three children this season, especially as Wellwood is a single mother. She is thrilled that they’re helping make this festive time even more special.

“I cannot wait. At Christmastime you like to give your children the best. For Evan, I like to go one step further because I don’t know what’s coming. So I try to make it special and memorable every single year. This is the first year he’s really grasped the concept.”

She’s also hoping to fulfill Evan’s wish through the Sunshine Foundation to see Dora and the characters from the Despicable Me movie at Universal Studios in Orlando. And she has plans to volunteer to help other people this Christmas so the boys understand the importance of giving, not just receiving. “I want my children to grow up knowing to help everyone in need.”

Wellwood looks to the future with confidence, but also reality. “This Christmas I have a lot of faith. I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me over the last year. Things could be a lot worse.”