A Good Home

A Strong Voice, Silent Now

Canada has lost one of its greatest fighters for people with disabilities.

Bill McQueen — musician, TV producer and disability champion — has died.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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45 thoughts on “A Strong Voice, Silent Now”

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss Cynthia – losing someone who has reached out and allowed us to lean on them is a losing that cuts deep. How wonderful that he was there when you needed him, how wonderful that he lent his strength to so many – what a gift he must have been to you and all the folk who knew him. He sounds like a most impressive human being – and in the end that is such a rich epitaph! Thank you for sharing a little of his story.

  2. So Sorry Cynthia&Hamlin, for the loss of
    your friend Bill ! He and his friend helped a lot of
    people. May bill RIP. Love to you both Joanne & Tony.

  3. It sound like you have lost a wonderful friend Cynthia. It will be hard, but it sounds like Bill lived his life to his fullest potential. May he rest in peace.

  4. Tough. And we need people to fight for all minority groups. Read something today talking about wheelchair users and some such, as though they werent people in their own right, merely the extension of a mobility aid.

  5. Bill sounds like a national treasure and great friend. I admire his work to help bring more inclusion to people with disabilities. I’m sorry for your loss Cynthia and again amazed at the quality of people and friends you know. I believe that says a lot about you. ❤ hugs…

  6. Thank you indeed, Bill McQueen. And thank you, Cynthia, for telling us what he meant to you and how he helped you – and more about what he gave all of us. May his spirit live on in the help that others give, in the ability of others to share struggle, challenges and solutions. Sending sympathy and a hug, and my condolences to all who knew and loved him.

  7. Thank you, dear Cynthia, for sharing this hero with us. I’m sorry for your loss. What a gift of caring you gave in return. Those calls–those extra steps you took–blessed him, and you. People who stand up for those in need, or those with challenges, deserve honour.
    Hugs ~ Wendy

  8. Je ne connaissais pas cette personne, mais rien que le fait de t’entendre en parler, montre combien il devait être authentique, bon et à l’écoute des autres, qualités de plus en plus rares dans nos sociétés individualistes. Que ta peine puisse être consolée par l’exemple qu’il nous laisse

  9. Thank you Cynthia for a moving tribute.

    You remind me of the personal side of Bill McQueen, all the individual people he helped and support supported, the persons with disabilities that now have careers in the media because of it. He worked to change attitudes and he changed lives.

    We’ll miss this guy.

  10. So sorry. He is unknown to me, here in the UK, but he sounds like a very cool person and I can imagine his absence will leave a big gap for a lot of people. Thinking of you and them.

    Cheers

    MTM

  11. Thank you Cynthia for your personal tribute.
    Bill McQueen’s kindness was appreciated all the individual people he helped and support supported, the persons with disabilities that now have careers in the media because of it. He never stopped working to change attitudes and he changed lives.
    What will be done to carry on his legacy of our years and years of stories. Stories that are as relevant to day as they were many years ago.
    Peace Bill and Peace to all who knew him.

  12. We will miss his gentle, considerate and intelligent manner. I can only pretend to know just how important the preservation and redeployment of The Disability Network material was to him, and would like to pay homage in attempting to help make that happen still….

    Thank you, Cynthia.

  13. Cynthia, a moving accolade to Bill – one of those people who touches everyone, has time and care. So sorry for your loss and I understand you feel it dearly. Not having heard of him I realise from your post that a great advocate for those living with disability is gone. Hugs xx

  14. I’m so sorry for your loss, Cynthia.

    Bill sounds like he was a wonderful person doing a much needed and little-appreciated job.

    You wrote a very moving, heartfelt tribute.

    Blessings~

  15. Cynthia, I am sorry to hear of Bill’s loss – both as your friend and someone who spoke up and fought for something important so tirelessly. We need people like Bill. I hope his work will be carried on.
    Jeanne

  16. I just learnt in today’s Globe and Mail of Bill’s passing. I’ve met Bill around 2004/2005 at an Innoversity Conference and over the years at several of round table events on disability in the media etc. He’s a passionate artist on inclusion in the media and supported us at TIDFAF’s 1st festival on a PSA he helped to put together. He shall be sorely missed. Thank you, Bill for all you’ve done for the disability and deaf community. Cynthia, what a lovely tribute of Bill. It’s very well written!

  17. He was obviously one of the people leading the way on disability issues. It will take more of us and more time to bring about a change in our frame of reference: that regardless of our varying degrees of ability, we are all part of a shared human adventure.

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