Canada has lost one of its greatest fighters for people with disabilities.
Bill McQueen — musician, TV producer and disability champion — has died.
It breaks my heart to see him go. Bill was my dear friend.
When I got lost in the fog of pain and injuries from a car accident — not making sense and stuttering so badly I would not use the phone — Bill called. He sometimes called several times before I called back. I couldn’t stand to complain to someone who was handling so much, and doing it with forbearance.
Mind you, Bill had little tolerance for the health system when it didn’t work for its patients. Many doctors didn’t take the time to explain to patients, he felt, especially when delivering bad news about their health. He believed in patients pushing back, doing their own research.
When I blamed myself for not healing faster, when I felt ashamed of my disabilities, Bill kept me on the phone, talking, willing me to change my attitude.
As my husband says, “He was always there for you.”
Do you know what a precious gift that is — to always be there for someone?
The thing is, it wasn’t just me. Bill was “always there” for many people living with disabilities. It’s one of the reasons I respected him so much.
He and his business partner Don Peuramaki and colleague George Farrell founded a production company – Fireweed — the first we knew of whose principals all lived with disability.
There, they continued the work they had started at CBC Television years earlier at “D-Net”, the weekly CBC TV series which Don executive produced, and Bill produced, along with George. (My boss, Les Lawrence, had helped with the start-up; I met Bill and Don when I became the chief journalism trainer and, later, a mentor for the team.)
Most of their programs at the CBC and Fireweed were about people trying to participate: trying to access workplaces, institutions, and to make their contributions in a world that often seemed indifferent.
Most of Bill’s work was voluntary. He was a musician, and belonged to his beloved symphony, but there’s an impressive list of other voluntary initiatives that he and Don worked on. Many of them focused on getting people with disabilities employed in the media, or changing the way the media portrays them.
Don and Bill lived with multiple disabilities, yet worked tremendously hard for the participation and inclusion of other people with disabilities.
They lived on very limited income, but spent money on (e.g.) securing video archives of the fight by persons with disabilities for inclusion. When Bill told me how much he paid to store the videos safely over many years, I was shocked.
When Don fell seriously ill, Bill took over the fight. He wanted to make sure the 100+ hours of video stories and raw video that Fireweed owns is used to train others — and to help tell the history of the fight for respect, inclusion, participation.
Bill and Don were both recently hospitalized — not for the first time. Bill returned home, quietly certain that he wouldn’t live much longer. His voice was weak, resigned.
“I’m really sorry I won’t have a chance to do more,” he said. He meant the goal he’d set for himself.
Then, this week, Bill sounded upbeat again. I told him that Les and I were talking: we wanted to help him and Don reach their goal.
As always, we ended the conversation with: “Love you, Bill.” And “Love you too. Take care.”
The next day, we spoke again, and I headed to the hospital with gifts, card, love and hope in my heart. He was sitting up in bed, talking.
The next morning, I called. And called again, leaving a cheerful voicemail message, silently reassuring myself there was no need to worry.
This morning, Les called to say Bill died yesterday.
We love you, Bill. Thank you for everything.
Photo Credits: Innoversity