Up Close and Personal with St. John's Tony Lea
We invited Tony Lea to tell us a bit about himself, his work as Executive Director with St. John Ambulance, and his thoughts about living a healthy lifestyle.
HWR (Healthy Waterloo Region) Please tell us how you became involved with St. John Ambulance.
Tony After arriving here from Wales in 1988 with my wife Babs and children Pippa and David, it was a challenge to find steady full time employment. I joined the Royal Highland Fusiliers on a full-time contract. My Commanding Officer, LCol Terry Wilder was also Chairman of the KW Branch of St. John Ambulance at that time and he ‘recommended’ that I replace him in that capacity.
HWR Tell us a bit about growing up in Wales.
Tony We lived in Wrexham, the largest town in North Wales – as did my wife Babs. I am the second oldest in a family of 5 children – four boys and one girl.
Our father was an ex World War 11 veteran who had served in the Parachute Regiment.
He had his own small painting and decorating company that I worked in for a couple of years later in life. Our eldest brother is still in that business. My Mom stayed home to take care of the family.
My earliest memories are that we had no music, television or phone at that time.
Four boys shared one bedroom and usually play-fought at night before dad would come upstairs to sort us out.
HWR What did you want to be when you grew up?
Tony At a very early age, I decided to become a professional soccer player like my uncle who played at the highest level; nationally for Wales and was the assistant coach for Wales. After high school I was an apprentice aircraft technician with British Aerospace, then left to attend the Chester Football Club’s training camp.
Tony Lea -School in Wales
HWR What sports do you enjoy participating in now?
Tony I have a regular fitness routine and set goals for myself. I go to the gym at 4:00 am three days per week and do a set number of strengthening exercises, building up gradually. I also enjoy cycling, swimming and running. Not having health as a child made me value health and fitness more than most and so I have exercised ever since.
HWR Can you please tell us a bit more about your health as a child?
Tony I had pneumonia and then polio. I distinctly recall receiving two Lumbar Punctures and have hated needles ever since. I could not walk for quite some time and sprained my ankles easily for years after.
HWR Did you go on to study after high school?
Tony Yes, I upgraded my high school and then earned my Bachelor of Education from the University of Wales, in Education and Physical Education.
Later I completed my MA in administration from Leeds University.
After studying I was invited to write the “Theory and Practice of Motorcycle Road Safety”. The program, scheduled for six months, was so successful that it was extended for much longer.
Later in England, I taught physical education, mathematics and sociology at Farnham College in England. I also coached a national winning soccer team and originated the national advanced level pre-university course in physical education.
HWR What other jobs have you had?
Tony Before moving to Canada I worked in a car factory, a tire & rubber company, I sold bread, cakes and pie, and was a reservist in the Army.
In Canada I was general manager of a construction firm, a supply teacher and had part time contracts at the University of Waterloo as head badminton coach, and at Wilfrid Laurier as head soccer coach and head badminton coach.
HWR Tell us about a few highlights from your two decades plus with John Ambulance.
Tony Originating the Emergency Response Team in 2013 (Waterloo Region – SJA ERT), as well as Community Awareness and Response to Emergencies are two achievements I am very proud of.
Another was starting our only fundraiser the Waterloo Marathon nineteen years ago. And the St. John Ambulance/St. Lazarus National Home Caregiver Support Program to give family members who are caring for a loved one at home the resources they need to be healthy.
This year I was excited to form partnerships with Victim Services of Waterloo Region and have been in discussions to give training support to the Developmentally Challenged Sector in Ontario.
HWR What stood out for you this past year?
Tony I was informed last December that I had been promoted in the Order of St. Lazarus from Knight to Knight Commander - a great honour. An ancient organization, today the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem is an international self-governing and independent body, with its own Constitution dedicated to the care and assistance of the poor and the sick.
HWR What other community volunteer work do you do?
Tony I have served on more than 50 boards and committees in our community over the years.
HWR Have you received any awards for your contribution to the community?
Tony I am honoured to have been awarded many awards including the Queen's Diamond, Gold and Sapphire Jubilee Medals by Queen Elizabeth II, and am now a Commander with the Order of St. John and a Knight Commander with the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus.
HWR Tell us about your family.
Tony Babs and I have been married for 45 years. Pippa, our daughter, graduated in 2001 with a B.Sc. in Nursing and presently resides in Chilliwack, B.C. Pippa and her husband Christopher, who is a Pastor at a local Church, have two children, Anwen and Rhys.
Our son, David became a Professional Golfer out of Boca Raton, Florida upon graduating from Columbus State Georgia where he had a 4-year golf scholarship. He is now a detective on the fraud squad at the Waterloo Regional Police Force.
St. John Ambulance is a humanitarian organization dedicated to enhancing health, safety and quality of life through training and community service. St. John Ambulance is the world’s leading authority in first aid since 1883. St. John Ambulance trains over 125,000 Ontarians annually in first aid and other health care related courses and remains dedicated to saving lives at work, home and play. With over 5,000 volunteers contributing over half a million hours of community service a year, St. John Ambulance is an integral part of the community offering such unique and innovative programs as; medical first response, disaster response, car seat clinics, health and safety related adult and youth programs and therapy dog services. As a charitable, humanitarian organization, proceeds from St. John Ambulance’s first aid training and first aid product sales directly support these vital community services programs. For more information on St. John Ambulance training courses and volunteer opportunities or to contact your local branch, visit sja.ca.