Dave and I have been pretty lucky to meet some great people through photography. It’s certainly a great perk of the job. I want to talk about one extra special person that came into my life because of taking pictures.
I met Herb Belcourt because of the work I do for Junior Achievement. They are responsible for the Alberta Business Hall of Fame (ABHOF). Herb was selected as one of the 3 ABHOF inductees for 2017 and I was tasked with taking the portraits of these 3 individuals for their photo that would be put on the Wall of Fame that is located in Commerce Place.
Herb was 85 at this point. He was diagnosed with stage 4 Cancer in December 2016 and given one month to live. I made my way to his home in Sherwood Park for the session at the end of February since getting around wasn’t so easy for him at that point. But he’d already made it past the one month mark and was still doing relatively well.
I should point out that I’m typically not the biggest believer in a lot spiritual stuff like past lives et cetera, but when I met Herb and his wife Lesley that day, I had an overwhelming feeling like I’d known them all my life. It could be that they are just so welcoming that they make you feel as though you’d known them forever, but still, it was clear there was a connection.
We did a few different setups for the portrait session, I got shots I was happy with, and started to pack up. That’s when we really started chatting. It was a great conversation. I was so impressed with how Herb, at 85, was such a believer in younger thinking. He commented on how frustrating it was to hear old people complaining about these young ideas and how they thought everything should be the way it’s always been done. I was also impressed with how humble he was. He had recently been awarded the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement award at a ceremony held in Toronto, a park was being named for him in Sherwood Park, and of course there was the Alberta Business Hall of Fame award he was getting. With these accolades coming his way, he explained that he didn’t understand why he was deserving of them. He was honoured but confused. I would have stayed to talk for hours but I had another one of the portrait sessions booked and had to leave.
When I got to my car, I found myself nearly in tears that this man I just met didn’t have long to live. I was just so taken by him. When I got home I started researching his life. It quickly became quite clear why he was getting these awards. I won’t go into all his achievements (you can read a good sampling of them here), but believe me when I say he has done very well in his business endeavours, but more importantly, given back an incredible amount to the community and literally changed people’s lives. And here he is baffled at why people seemed to be recognizing him.
About a week later I headed to Ruth’s Chris restaurant to get the final ABHOF inductee portrait taken. The inductees were gathered there for a special dinner in their honour. I was so happy to see Herb and Lesley again! Lesley explained that Herb was getting a park named after him in Sherwood Park and instead of getting a statue made of him as was suggested, (Herb felt the cost of a statue was far too expensive and the money could be used for much better things in the community), they thought that a plaque would be more ideal. They were going to have a photo taken and it would be etched onto the plaque. I immediately volunteered my services to take the photo as a gift from me. They were thrilled.
The following week I found myself once again at Herb and Lesley’s house to take the portrait. Herb was adamant that the photo would be of him and his two grandchildren. We set up for the photo and I took around a hundred photos of the three of them. Luckily, there were a few where these 1-year old twin boys were both looking at the camera!
As a thank you for donating the photo session, Herb invited me and my girlfriend Nicole to a special dinner he was having. It was for a bunch of his close friends and was to be held at Ruth’s Chris. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He also gave me a signed copy of his book “Walking in the Woods”. That was special!
Nicole and I showed up for the dinner and quickly realized that it was for a very, very select group of his friends, approximately 20-25 people, and I felt so honoured that he wanted me there.
As the evening progressed, some of the guests made their way around the table to chat with other guests. On two separate occasions through the evening someone approached us and asked how we knew Herb. When I explained that I had just met him a few weeks ago but he had quite an impact on me, they said “It can be quite overwhelming, can’t it?” Apparently, I was not alone in feeling the way I did upon meeting Herb!
A few weeks later, Nicole and I went over to Herb and Lesley’s for tea. We had a great visit. When we got to the car to head home, I found myself in actual tears this time. On one hand, I was so glad that I got to meet Herb, and on the other hand incredibly sad that his time with us was going to be coming to an end, sooner rather than later.
Flash forward to May 3rd for the ABHOF event that was held at the Shaw Conference Centre. I was the designated photographer for the event. It was now well over three months past Herb’s “one month to live” date so you can imagine how happy I was to see him at the event! He received his award and was interviewed by the emcee on stage for a few minutes. Since Herb was using a scooter to get around at this point, he needed some help getting off the stage. The venue had a lift at the side for this purpose. The event manager asked if I wouldn't mind jumping on stage after his interview to help get the scooter to the lift. She had no idea that this would not be a problem at all! I headed up to the stage to help him and when he saw it was me, his face lit up. I will never forget that.
May 10th was the official opening of Herb Belcourt Park. Several people gathered that afternoon for the unveiling of the plaque that was affixed to a giant rock, placed at the entrance of the park. I cannot tell you how proud I was to be the one who took the photo for the plaque honouring this man. I know I will be visiting the park many times over the coming years.
I took photos of the plaque unveiling event that day and was contacted by Lesley recently. Turns out the publisher of his book is re-issuing it. Herb wrote a new intro to the book and wanted to include 2 of the photos I took at the unveiling. Another honour I won't forget.
Herb passed away early in the morning on July 5th. One day shy of his 86th birthday. I had only known him for 132 days of his 31390 on Earth (works out to less than half of a percent of his life), but the impact he had on me was much bigger than that, and bigger than I would have ever imagined.
I will miss him.