Reprinted with permission from the May – June 2011 issue of The Fourth R.
Our Man in Canada
Don Smith likes to style himself as the “token foreigner” on the Westar Board of Directors.
But this Canadian from Calgary, Alberta, is anything but foreign to his fellow board members, who find his crackling sense of humor and sharp insights a welcome part of their meetings.
Don’s road to Westar was an unusual one. He was born in Winnipeg and raised in Alberta. He studied chemical engineering at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and embarked on a career as a petroleum engineer, working with the Alberta government and with Home Oil Company Limited. He then became a consultant for three years before retiring in 1999 at the ripe old age of 42!
It was the somewhat idle six months between the Home Oil position and the consulting job that sparked a new interest in Don. His 82-year-old aunt needed a ride to continue her participation in a Thursday morning Bible study at Knox United Church, part of the United Church of Canada.
Attending the meetings as his aunt’s chauffeur brought him in touch with Lorraine Hartry, the minister of the church, who quickly became Don’s spiritual mentor. She regularly showed videos of Jesus Seminar folks such as John Dominic Crossan. These Thursday morning experiences caused him to take the unusual step of joining a church for the first time in his adult life.
He began working in adult education at Knox Centre, which focused on providing educational opportunities to church members as well as the seeking community in Calgary. There has been a steady stream of Westar Scholars through the church, and in 2001 Don worked with Westar to bring a Jesus Seminar on the Road to Knox United. The church has sponsored four more JSORs since then.
All this exposure to Westar had Don regularly attending fall and spring meetings, beginning in 2001. In 2009, Don’s enthusiasm and business expertise earned him an invitation to serve on the board. “I think they secretly wanted someone who didn’t speak American!” he quipped.
Actually, he has developed a fascination with America and religion. “It is the one country where there is still a level of tension associated with religious dialogue,” he said. “Christianity can be a powerful force for good, but bad religion can be worse than no religion at all. Westar is completely relevant to this struggle, and that is why I think it is so important.”
His convictions about Westar’s role in this religious struggle encouraged him to become a participant in The Campaign for Westar. He has made a provision for Westar in his estate plans and is one of the charter members of the John Dillenberger Society.