The credo often associated with Agnes Macphail — “Think Globally, Act Locally” — couldn’t come more naturally to the man who won the award in Macphail’s name last week.
“As a child, I remembered seeing letters on the table at my house from various foster children that my parents sponsored. These kids, mostly from African countries, had nothing. That was one of my first memories of how important it is to help those in need,” said Patrick Rocca, this year’s winner of East York’s highest award for civic activism.
Rocca received the Agnes Macphail Award at a ceremony at the East York Civic Centre, held on the icy evening of March 24.
March 24 is the anniversary of Agnes Macphail’s birth in 1890. She went on to become the brightest luminary in East York’s political history — as the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons, and one of the first two elected to the Ontario legislature. Her career was characterized by progressive causes, and in 1994, what was then East York municipal council established an annual award in her name, to be given to a local volunteer doing outstanding community work.
“We’re looking for somebody who’s a leader, who does it as a volunteer, and who’s thinking of not necessarily all the things that Agnes did, but things that are also on the social justice spectrum,” said Lorna Krawchuk, chair of the Agnes Macphail recognition committee.
“Patrick’s a local friend,” Krawchuk said, and referring to Rocca’s career as a real estate agent, she added, “We keep running into each other. It happens that when we were buying the place we live in now, he was the agent representing the person who was selling it to us.”
Most of Rocca’s volunteerism has been devoted to two causes: the fight against prostate cancer and a neighbourhood clothing charity.
“It’s very humbling,” Rocca said of his award. “I’m very honored. I do what I do for the community not for the recognition, and I wasn’t expecting this at all.”
The March 24 ceremony began with songs by the VOCA Chorus of Toronto, followed by a speech on homelessness by one of he winners of the separate Agnes Macphail Public Speaking Contest, Olivia Walsh — a Grade 6 student at St. Anselm Catholic School on Bessborough Drive.
Rocca echoed the sentiments of the young speaker’s remarks, reiterating the importance of helping those in need and giving back to the community.
In turn, Rocca’s children are already following in his footsteps. His daughter became involved with New Circle’s prom boutique drive four years ago, and he’s been helping her along the way. New Circles Community Services is a non-profit clothing collector and distributor operating from headquarters in the Victoria Park Avenue-Eglinton Avenue East area.
“I remember my son telling me a story a few years ago. He helped a boy pick out a suit and shoes. Once the boy was all set, he turned to my son and said, ‘When do I have until to return this suit?’ He didn’t realize that it was his to keep,” Rocca said.
Pancheta Barnett is the president of the East York Historical Society, as well as Rocca’s friend and nominator. In her speech, she recounted the words of Nita Saini from New Circles.
“Patrick is a hands-on advocate. Every year he can be seen lugging donations from his car to New Circles to make sure clothing arrives in a timely fashion,” she said. “Patrick always treats all the young people with care, dignity, and respect, ensuring that every student he encounters leaves with a positive experience and is well-suited to celebrate with style.”
Going forward, Rocca said he hopes to contribute more to the Prostate Cancer Canada agency and its “Wear Plaid for Dad” campaign, which he became involved in last year.
“I do what I do because I like to give back, and I get great satisfaction in seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” Rocca said.