My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
The unglossed truth is that we meet few truly remarkable people during our lives. Yes, everyone is special and unique, etc. but for someone to be “remarkable” is not only a statement about the person but about the person making the statement. Being “remarkable” – much like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder.
Such people can have remarkable effects on our lives; though often undramatic. We might say that our lives are so much richer, even that we are so much richer, for knowing such a person. Whether that time is the space of a journey by air or over many years, a few words, an understanding look, even sincere laugh can stay with us for many, many years.
So it is with someone I first met in 1986 soon after returning to Canada after my walk beside the river Ganges in India. His name is Orland Larson. He has made a difference in many, many people’s lives. It is his 80th birthday tomorrow. And this is my tribute to him.
And in typical Orland fashion, he has published his own book about his life – not a straight biography as such. Instead, he asked 80 people who know him to write something about how they met and about something memorable; to which he has added important his own stories, achievements, dates, family photos and a few of his favourite receipes. The result is a wonderful little book of a remarkable man (eat your heart out Gurdjieff!).
(And its a testament to modern technology that an individual with a bit of drive (and a helpful brother) can publish 100 copies of their own book to distribute to friends and family. Yet again, Orland is a pioneer – this is a great idea for others to emulate.
I met Orland because the local newspaper, The Calgary Herald, ran a long interview with me about my experiences in India. My home at the time was a former coal miner’s shack in a ghost town about 100 east of Calgary where Orland was teaching jewellery making. (I was resident number 66 – down from 3000 people in the East Coulee’s boom days).
Orland read the article and wrote inviting me to address his students. not that I knew anything about jewellery, but because he wanted the young people in his classes to meet another young person who’d gone out and “done something”.
And Orland and I have been friends for 25 years ever since.
The stories in “80 Years of Orland, 1931-2011” reflect the breadth of his friendships and the years he has travelled.
In 1960 he went north to the Arctic to use art as a means of communication to non-English-speaking Inuit children. This was before mature Inuit artists had become recognized or before Inuit art was developed and became the vibrant media
known in the South and around the world that it is today. One of the people Orland influenced was Alexia Fruin, secretary and
daughter of Orland’s dear Inuit friend Ovilu Goo from Cape Dorset.
“I cannot even begin to tell you what my best memories are, spending time with you. I appreciate stories shared with me as they made me feel so grown-up. What I adore about you is that you radiate positive energy.
“You encourage others to live life to the fullest. You are always willing to teach and to learn. I feel very fortunate to have you in my life.”
Another person in the North, Pamela Nyznik, now a clothing designer and daughter of the only doctor in Port Radium in the western Arctic. She writes words that must be music to every teacher’s ears:
“Orland was my most favourite teacher. He opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart to learning and experiencing life as a wonderful journey, full of adventure to stimulate the imagination…Orland has been an enormous influence in my life. The best teacher is one who lives by example!”
Since leaving the Arctic, Orland taught at the first art college in Nova Scotia, his adopted province, and later in Calgary, Alberta. He’s had hundreds of students over the years and it’s amazing how many he’s kept in contact with and how many also look up to him as someone who changed their life.
And even today, Orland is still changing lives. With money from the sale of part of his fabulous shore-front property in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, he has established and endowed the Leonard-Miranda Foundation of Canada (named for his parents).
The foundation helps young people, mostly in Cambodia, by providing bursaries for them to be able to complete their university education. Orland has also been teaching jewellery making skills to enable people to earn a living. 32 people have been learning with Orland since 2007. Ever ambitious – Orland intends establishing the first Jewellery School in Cambodia by next year.
The foundation’s latest fund-raising has been the hand-making and sale of Chinese baroque freshwater pearls necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
“Currently, Suon is learning to be a teacher. Vanna is a 3rd year law student and Piseth is taking his Master’s Degree in business Administration. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The average wage is less than $2/day. Most young people come from poverty-stricken families and cannot complete their education without some financial assistance for their university fees and living expenses.
“If these students do exceptionally well they will also receive The Carrot Travel Award from the Foundation, allowing them get a passport and to visit other nearby countries to further expand their horizons so they can be more experienced and more knowledgeable as appreciative citizens of Cambodia.
“Recognition of student achievement is part-and-parcel of my philosophy simply because I was so generously helped to enrich my own life as I developed a passion for making jewellery and for teaching. I now want to share what I have learned.”
Orland is, without doubt, a larger than life character; someone you definitely notice in a room! He’s included a section at the end of his book called, “This I Believe”, a sort-of Orland charter of being.
“Never give up!
Never take the “easy road”.
Deliberately work beyond everyone’s expectations,
even your own.
See achievements in new directions.
You are born alone and will die alone.
If you are personally strengthened
because other have helped you
along the way,
you will be prepared to help others.
A teacher all my life, I never felt lonely.
Orland’s mantra: Helping Others to help themselves so they can help someone else.”
Happy Birthday Orland – it’s a privilege to know you!