Gift comes straight from the heart

"The Colonel would claim he had a good time making all that money," he recalls. "But then he'd say he had a lot more fun giving it away," to institutions such as Mississauga's Trillium Centre. "He believed in sharing his success with others."…At St. Mike's, says Dr. Errett, "Terry has transformed our facilities. And in a broader sense, he has transformed the nature of private giving for health care in this city. He is certainly our most active donor."

The Toronto Star
March 3, 2002

Gift comes straight from the heart


Col. Harlan Sanders, Dr. Lee Errett and Terry Donnelly (far right)

So? Is there really some sort of master plan out there, shaping our destinies?

Or are we mere flotsam, riding the swirling currents of chance?

Well, you can argue both ways. But remarkable things do happen, you know. Seemingly interrelated events that make you wonder.

Now take the story of Terry, The Colonel and Jack. A tale of friendship, achievement and heartwarming generosity that's helping save lives in Toronto every day.

Let's start with this fellow they call The Colonel, who's just had a bad break. After years of struggle as a buggy painter, streetcar conductor, muleskinner, insurance salesman and ash-doodler on the railway, he'd finally found success as a restaurateur in Kentucky.

But now the @ #&*% government had just built this new interstate highway, bypassing his motel-restaurant. So here he is, flat broke at age 65. What to do?

Our Grade 6 dropout thinks things over and asks himself: With no bank account and no prospects, how can I start all over again? Then it hits him. "Dammit, I can still cook! Folks like my chicken."

So, in the fall of '52, off he goes with his first $105 Social Security cheque in his pocket, a load of pots and pans in his tired old Ford, and this crazy idea in his head….

Meanwhile, up in London, Ont., Terry Donnelly has barely set out on the road of life. The son of a carpeting salesman at Simpson's, he's done well in business studies at the University of Western Ontario. But the kid's not finished. Now he wants a law degree.

Which explains how he winds up in another kind of tired old Ford. That would be the venerable Ford Hotel at Bay and Dundas, right across from the bus terminal. Hey, where else can an impoverished student find downtown accommodation for 25 bucks a week?

Mind you, Terry still has to come up with that $25 every Friday. Not to mention his $385 annual tuition at the Osgoode Law School. So every summer, he's down at the CNE, washing dishes, peeling potatoes and getting to know a lot of folks in fast-food stands.

He's the unassuming type, is Terry. The kind who gets top marks then sets up a law practice with the guy who happened to sit beside him through four years at Osgoode, where the seats are allocated alphabetically.

So there he is, struggling to make ends meet in his law practice one day in 1964 when the phone rings. The caller is an executive at Scott's Chicken Villa whom he'd known since CNE days.

"I've got a man here who wants to buy a house in Cooksville," says the caller. "He needs a lawyer who won't charge too much to do the paperwork."

"Send him over," says Terry.

When he arrives, the new client causes quite a stir. For with his immaculate white plantation suit, string tie, silver-handled walking stick and white goatee, he is one of the most instantly recognizable individuals in the world - Colonel Harland Sanders.

Yessir, that same old codger who'd hit the road just a decade ago to peddle his finger-lickin' dream had already built the foundations of the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire. And now he's in Terry's office.

"Son," he warns, "Ah doan lahk tax collectors. Ah doan lahk accountants. An' ah doan lahk laaw-yers."

But after they'd chatted a bit, and Terry had smoothed the way for him to buy a $22,000 bungalow on Melton Dr. in Applewood Acres, the Colonel decides this young whippersnapper is okay. Maybe he could throw a little more biz his way.

And the Colonel has plenty of biz. Having just sold his 1,000 U.S. outlets for $2 million (what a steal for the buyers!), he's now setting up franchises in Canada, operating out of the no-frills little Mississauga house he and wife Claudia will call home for more than 10 years.

"How y'all doin' with the lawyerin'?" he asks one day. When Terry allows as how he's not getting rich, the Colonel suggests "Wah doan y'all throw in with me?"

Well! Faster than you can say "11 different herbs and spices," Terry begins to slip away from everyday law practice to climb aboard the KFC Express. Starting in the Niagara Peninsula, he will gradually acquire a string of franchises in other parts of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

But in his long, close association with Harland Sanders, Terry will profit in other ways.

"The Colonel would claim he had a good time making all that money," he recalls. "But then he'd say he had a lot more fun giving it away," to institutions such as Mississauga's Trillium Centre. "He believed in sharing his success with others."

By the time Sanders dies at age 90 in 1980, Donnelly is on the board of directors of KFC and the charitable foundation that controls it. When PepsiCo Inc. buys out KFC's Canadian operations in 1986, Donnelly becomes a wealthy man.

So, what does a bachelor lawyer do after he strikes it rich?

Well, he takes up skiing with the likes of Frank Mahovlich. Enjoys world travel. Continues to dabble in law and business. Carries on with the Colonel's charitable foundation which aids children’s hospitals across Canada.

And remembers how much his friend Harland Sanders enjoyed giving his money away.

Which helps explain why, after conversations with another friend, Dr. Lee Errett, chief of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at St. Michael's Hospital, Terrence Donnelly begins to do some rather remarkable things.

In 1996, he donates $2 million to St. Mike's for new and expanded cardiac research labs. This from a man who'd never had heart trouble, never been a patient at St. Mike's or even visited a patient there.

In 1998, he's back to St. Mike's again with another $2 million for a cutting edge cardiovascular research lab and an impressive upgrading of facilities for doctors, patients and visitors to what is now called the Terrence Donnelly Heart Centre.

And just two years ago, he salutes his hometown while honouring his mother's 90th birthday with a cool $5 million for a new Women's Health Pavilion at the London Health Sciences Centre. Not bad for a refugee from the Ford Hotel who's always lived in rented apartments and still drives a nondescript used car.

At St. Mike's, says Dr. Errett, "Terry has transformed our facilities. And in a broader sense, he has transformed the nature of private giving for health care in this city. He is certainly our most active donor."

Yes, indeed. Rather than relegating charitable bequests to his will, here's a busy benefactor- allocating exactly where his money is to go and enjoying the satisfaction of seeing those dollars at work every day.

Now we come to Jack. Nice guy, Jack Ardis, a Toronto-born school principal who retired recently after four decades of teaching and administrative work with the Toronto and Peel-Dufferin separate school boards.

So there he was, out walking with grandsons Sean and D.J. near his Caledon Hills home recently, when suddenly he didn't feel so hot.

Discomfort in his chest, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue. Sure enough, when they got him to the Orangeville hospital it was confirmed: heart attack.

Bad one, too. In mid-January, he's whisked to St. Mike's, where Dr. Yves LeClerc performs lifesaving quintuple bypass surgery to correct 11 cardiovascular blockages.

Jack is home now, still marvelling at the care he received at St. Mike's and "the wonderful healing ambience" of the comfortable new patients' lounges, upgraded library facilities and the beautiful artwork in every room and hallway.

"You should see the aquariums they have, with the exotic tropical fish. So soothing."

Which is where Jack, just days after his surgery, happens to meet a pleasant gent named Terry, feeding the fish.

"We had a nice chat and went our separate ways. I'd noticed his picture on the wall, but had no idea he'd done so much."

And it hasn't ended yet. For our hands-on philanthropist is still working to enhance his legacy. Scouting country auctions for more pictures and furnishings to give patients' rooms that homey look. Financing annual think tanks for heart surgeons. And guess who recently provided a new piano for the cafeteria?

So there you have it. The story of Terry, the Colonel and Jack. All part of the master plan? Or flotsam swirling in the streams of chance?

We can't say. But we can salute a man who's put his money where his heart is.

And that ain't chicken feed.

DO YOU HAVE A STORY to tell? We're celebrating the extraordinary lives of “ordinary” people. To tell us about an unforgettable person or incident that has touched, changed or enriched your life, call (416) 869-4874 anytime. Or write to me at Gamester's People, George Gamester, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto, Ont. M5E 1E6. Fax: 869-4322. E-mail: ac.ratseht|tsemagg#ac.ratseht|tsemagg

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