#12: Dr. Gary McPherson

Written by Bob Steadward

Gary McPherson (right) spent a lifetime as an advocate for people with a disability. He was gentle, and yet a relentless, proactive leader, who made his mark in life by an unselfish contribution to the community in which he lived and, by causes he served so well, through dignity, respect, compassion tolerance, and understanding. Gary possessed an intangible strength that bore quiet, yet profound greatness, and many benefitted from the wisdom of his teachings.

On October 2nd, 1955, Gary contracted polio while holidaying in Edmonton with family during an epidemic that ravaged Alberta. He spent the next 34 years of his life living in the polio ward of the University and Aberhart hospitals.

An interest in Ham Radio, a form of amateur radio, led Gary to his involvement in wheelchair sport. In 1967, Gary first met Bob Steadward, and their mutual interest in wheelchair sport, and their positive outlook on life led to a lifelong friendship that lasted more than 40 years.  Gary’s involvement in wheelchair sports started with the Edmonton Paralympic sports Association, where he served as President from 1970-1974. From there he moved on to the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association, where he served as Executive Director from 1974-1978, and as President from 1984-1992. In 1976, the Alberta Northern Lights Wheelchair Basketball Society was formed and Gary served as their Chairman of the Board and Manager from 1978-1984.

Gary’s achievements in sport and his interest in disability issues also spread to other endeavors. In 1987, he was the First Chairman of the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disability, and in 1998 he was appointed as the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the School of Business of the University of Alberta.

In the early 1970s, Gary became interested in politics, and worked extensively with Peter Lougheed during his leadership campaign. His involvement with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta continued, and in 2006, Gary himself ran for leadership of the party. Despite a strong campaign, and facing the adversities of an often inaccessible environment, Gary made a strong showing. Although he was unsuccessful in his bid for Premier, he was however, extremely successful in raising awareness of the capability of people with a disability.

For his leadership and contributions to sport and society Gary received many awards, including:

  • Order of Canada (2004)
  • Alberta Order of Excellence (2007)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alberta (1995)
  • Induction into the Edmonton and Alberta Sport Halls of Fame 
  • Edmontonian and Albertan of the century (2004 & 2005)

Gary McPherson was truly an outstanding Canadian, an individual whose achievements were tremendous. He left a significant and long lasting mark on not only the people of Alberta, but throughout Canada. Dr. Gary McPherson will truly live on forever in the hearts and minds of all who knew him.

Dr. Gary William Wilcox McPherson (June 28, 1946 - May 8, 2010)