Mon, December 22, 2003

Price of freedom

T.O. tycoon gives to soldiers' survivors


A wealthy, publicity-shy member of one of Canada's most prominent families has quietly donated more than $500,000 US to the loved ones of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Les Shaw wants someone to pick up where he left off.

In May, the 76-year-old chairman of Toronto-based oil services company Shawcor Ltd. decided to show his gratitude to the families of those in both Canada and the U.S. who died protecting democracy overseas.

"We in North America and other parts of the world, we take freedom for granted," Shaw, who now lives in Barbados, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

"Yet here's these young fellows and their families who are giving the ultimate sacrifice to sustain the freedom we enjoy."

Once he got permission and the contact information for nearly 250 families from U.S. military officials, Shaw sent each one a personal cheque for $2,000 US along with a brief, eloquent expression of thanks.

Through Canadian Forces authorities, he also made a similar offer of $2,500 Cdn to the families of the six soldiers killed in Afghanistan.


"It is too easy for many of us in North America to take our wonderful freedoms for granted; obviously, your loved one did not," Shaw's letter reads.

"Please accept this small token as a gesture of heartfelt thanks from an appreciative Canadian. Spend it however you think your fallen hero would want."

The letters prompted more than 100 heart-wrenching replies, many stuffed with family photos and other tokens of remembrance from grieving parents, widows and widowers whose anguish leaps from the page.

"They jerk you around pretty good," Shaw said of the letters, his voice softening. "They get to you."

Shaw never planned to publicize his generosity. But when the American death toll in Iraq continued to climb past his established cut-off date of July 31, he decided to go public in the hope a like-minded successor would emerge.

"I think they'd find it gratifying, and as time goes by, very worthwhile," said Shaw, whose 22-year-old nephew is in Baghdad with U.S. forces.

As of Friday, the U.S. death toll in Iraq totalled 461. Of those, 211 have died since July 31.