Canada and the World

‘It’s always been about the children’

Murray Dryden’s 30-year labour of love

JOHN INTINI May 13 2002
Canada and the World

‘It’s always been about the children’

Murray Dryden’s 30-year labour of love

JOHN INTINI May 13 2002

‘It’s always been about the children’

Canada and the World

Murray Dryden’s 30-year labour of love

JOHN INTINI

Dave Dryden will never forget the moment he realized his father Murray had changed the world. It happened early one February afternoon in 1992, while he was distributing aid in an Indian village for his dad's charity, Sleeping Children Around the World. Dave, then a high | school principal from Mississauga, Ont., I went to visit a nearby school to see the | conditions the local children faced. Upon | entering a classroom in the destitute build5 ing, he was drawn immediately to a picture | hanging at the front. Expecting a portrait g of a religious or political figure, Dave was | left speechless when he realized it was a 8 sketch of his father. “It was such an awesome thing to be nearly 8,000 miles from home and find a picture of dad hanging on the wall,” he says. “Fie had been in the village distributing bed kits a year earlier and this is the respect he was given. Its proof of the impact he has.”

A year after retiring in 1970, Murray Dryden began devoting his life to SCAW, which provides clean bedding materials to children in the world’s poorest regions. The former brick salesman and his wife Margaret started the charity in 1971 with $3,000 of their personal savings. Dryden has since donated $3 million of his own money to the cause, and in 2000 donated his west-end Toronto home to be the head office for the charity’s 200 volunteers. But above all, he has given himself. The charity spends no money on advertising, but Dryden has spread the word at thousands of schools across Canada. As well, he has accumulated enough Air Miles in worldwide travel to span the globe 15 times. While Dryden flew to impoverished nations to distribute bed kits—which include

pyjamas, sheets and other sleeping necessities—Margaret ran the organization from home.

Dryden’s last overseas journey was in 1998, when he led a group of volunteers through a few villages in Chennai, India. It was a fitting final trip; his first pilgrimage had been to India three decades earlier. The 90-year-old, who now lives in a nursing home, no longer handles the organization’s day-to-day operations—a role he had filled until early last year. Still, family and those who have worked closely with him attest to his unwavering commitment to the nearly 600,000 children in 31 countries he has helped. “It’s always been about the children,” says Lorraine Graves, a fulltime volunteer with SCAW for the last eight years. “It’s amazing to see him with the kids. They love him. When he goes into villages they’re always at his feet. He’s a giant of a man in so many ways.”

Born in Winnipeg to Scottish parents, Dryden was the eldest of eight children.

Until he was 17, he worked on the family’s 408-acre farm and went to school in the small town of Domain, Man. Upon finishing Grade 11, he went to Winnipeg and sold women’s silk stockings door-to-door. In 1932, he moved to Hamilton and started Dryden Speciality Co., which specialized in plant food. The product proved to be a tough sell during the Depression, but that didn’t scare him from Hamilton, where he met Margaret Campbell, a teacher at the Model Kindergarten School ofToronto, in 1937. The two were married the following year and eventually had three children: Dave, Ken and Judy. Dryden has always been heavily involved with the United Church of Canada and his community— managing numerous hockey and baseball teams while his two future NHL sons were growing up.

During the late 1950s, Dryden dabbled in photography. He enjoyed capturing the peaceful quality of young children as they slept, and one night in 1961 photographed

his then 9-year-old daughter Judy. After Dryden showed the pictures to friends, many asked him to photograph their children. While travelling through Europe in 1964, he thought it would be interesting to take pictures of sleeping children from different countries and cultures. Although turned away by many protective adults, Dryden was able to persuade parents in 28 countries to be part of the project. Although unsuccessful at getting a book of this collection published—he later published three other books—he was inspired to create his charity.

From the beginning, Dryden has been very strict with charity guidelines. Every penny donated is spent on bed kits, and because of his reluctance to seek government handouts, the charity has never accepted money from that quarter. “Murray and his volunteers often slept on the floors in airports to save money,” says Jean Berry, who edited Dryden’s 1991 book, For the Love of His Children. “These weren’t the safest places, but he never thought twice.”

Danger was never a deterrent. In 1977, while on a main street in Säo Paulo, Brazil, he was stabbed and robbed. Forty minutes later he was robbed again at knifepoint— all in broad daylight. Three years later in Uganda, the car he was riding in was

stopped at a military checkpoint. A soldier threatened to shoot him because he thought Dryden looked like a European mercenary. In India a decade later, rebels removed him and a group of his volunteers from a bus at gunpoint. However, Dryden’s greatest challenge came in 1985, when Margaret died. But even then he persevered. “The 10 years after mom passed away were SCAW’s best years,” says Dave. “He threw everything he had into it.” In 1995 he married Theda Burton.

There are also stringent rules for those interested in helping out. Volunteers are required to pay their own way if they want to take part in overseas missions. “He has an amazing ability to make people want to give of themselves,” says Graves, who has made 34 such journeys. “People are motivated when they see how passionate he is.” Dryden’s youngest son Ken, the legendary Montreal Canadiens goalie who’s now president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, says it’s his father’s sales pitch that often seals it for would-be volunteers. “My dad just says, ‘Why go to Florida when you can come with me and have the experience of your life?’”says Ken. “People can’t say no to him.”

Every year, Dryden strives to top the previous year’s fundraising results—a goal he has accomplished all but once. In total, SCAW has collected $15 million. Donors receive a photo of the child, with the bed kit laid out in front of him or her, who benefited from their gift. “Murray knows people need something tangible,” says Graves, a member of the four-person executive. “It’s not his style to bug people. He wants them to help because they want to.”

Most of the fundraising is done through school canvassing, but other funding has come from the sale of Christmas cards, proceeds from Dryden’s books (now all out of print) and the $2.5 million earned when he sold his three Christmas tree lots in 1988.

In 1991, he was named a member of the Order of Canada, and last spring the National Capital Commission erected a permanent exhibit at its Canada and the World Pavilion in Ottawa, honouring Dryden for his commitment to SCAW. Although he rarely makes it to the charity’s head office, Dryden is still kept abreast of developments. “Sleeping Children has not only added years to the lives of the children,” says Ken, “but years to my dad’s life as well. It’s given him a purpose to keep going.” And for that, half a million children worldwide are thankful. ED