Understanding the impact of asbestos:

Dave Ford’s story

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As a young man, Dave was an avid athlete; he swam and cycled competitively in England. Once in Canada, he became an active member of Kinsmen, a community volunteer service, and by the time he had a family to care for, he shared his passion for sports by coaching and sponsoring a youth soccer team.  Dave always found time to attend his kids’ ball games, chaperone at Cub camps, and help out at school sports days and other activities. A big kid at heart, Dave hosted a neighbourhood Halloween bonfire–fireworks display for many years and spent as much time goofing around at Christmas as the kids. The grandchildren loved his silly antics and called him their magical Granddad. Summers were spent on beautiful Savary Island where Dave and his wife, Lesley, built a family summer home, one small step at a time, over more than 30 years — a true labour of love.

Although Dave enjoyed many things, his real passion was for electronics. At a young age he chose this field of work because “electricity always fascinates me,” as he would say. He was a highly skilled electrician and was the electrical foreman at the local pulp and paper mill where he worked for over 30 years. His interest in electronics and desire to be his own boss eventually led to the start-up of his own security alarm company.

But it was after he retired that Lesley began noticing that Dave would get extremely short of breath when working outside, requiring frequent breaks. She also noticed he seemed to need much more sleep and that his breathing was laboured as he slept, causing him to sound “like he was snoring underwater.” But it wasn’t until Dave had difficulty breathing, and landed in the hospital, that they would learn that mesothelioma was causing these symptoms. The news was earth-shattering. The family immediately started researching for information on mesothelioma treatment and soon found out how little appeared to be known about recognizing and treating this disease. Dave underwent chemotherapy treatment, surgery, and then more chemotherapy. He showed great strength of character and courage throughout his illness. Lesley said, “We never gave up hope.” Eighteen months after he was diagnosed, Dave passed away, on October 18, 2008, at age 70.

When Lesley reflects back on Dave she describes him as “a true people-person because he always found time to spend with family and friends, telling stories, lending a helping hand, or just hanging out.” As a special gift for his 70th birthday, Dave’s family created Daveology, a collection of tall tales, unique quotes, questionable advice, and other tidbits from Dave’s life, capturing the essence of a life filled with family, friends, and adventure. Memories of time spent with Dave will always be treasured — in Lesley’s words, “His presence will truly be missed.”

Educating people about asbestos

Despite the fact that asbestos use is extremely limited in Canada today, Lesley expresses concern about young workers who may — unknowingly — be exposed to asbestos today as they work on buildings constructed many years earlier when asbestos was used.

Through Dave’s experience, Lesley and her family learned more about asbestos and mesothelioma than they ever would have expected. She says, “Considering that this is a cancer most frequently contracted as a direct result of workers being exposed to asbestos while carrying out their job, I was surprised to discover that there was no fund in Canada for asbestos-related cancer initiatives.” And so, in tribute to Dave and his memory, and in the hope that the situation could be improved for others, in 2010 the Ford family founded the AREA Fund — the Asbestos-Related Research, Education & Advocacy Fund. The Vancouver Foundation, Canada’s largest community foundation, manages the fund, which provides a funding source for the wide variety of asbestos-related research, education, and advocacy initiatives.

Dave Ford