George Currie, driving force behind Nova Scotia seatbelt law, dies at 86

George Currie, driving force behind Nova Scotia seatbelt law, dies at 86

George Currie was a "guy's guy" who wore a crew cut, smoked a pipe and equated lettuce on a baloney sandwich with eating a salad.

Those who knew him say he was also a visionary who pushed for equality, contributed greatly to the culture of safety in Nova Scotia and was one of the driving forces behind a law to make seatbelts mandatory in the province in 1984.

Currie died on Sunday after a lengthy illness. He was 86.

During his time in the RCMP, Currie helped develop training courses for information technology and improved treatment of people with mental health issues. He thought computers had a place in squad cars and women had greater role in the force than behind desks.

A move back home

But by the mid-1970s, frustrated with the culture and repeated moves, he retired. Currie moved his family back to Nova Scotia in 1981 and headed up the Nova Scotia Safety Council. It was a two-person operation at the time, but Currie was relentless.

Currie's son, Todd, said his dad's passion for safety stemmed from his time in the RCMP. To be a police officer in rural Canada in the 1950s and 1960s was to also be a paramedic and sometimes priest, said Todd Currie.

"There were no ambulances at times that could take people to the hospital. He'd have people in his cars."

'He thought, 'This can be changed''

His father almost never talked about it, but Currie said accidents involving young people particularly affected his dad.

"He realized that this didn't need to happen. A basic seatbelt could keep people from dying, being decapitated or going through windshields," he said. "He thought, 'This can be changed.'"

That wasn't always an easy sell. There was a lot of pushback about infringing on civil liberties, but Currie said his dad rallied various groups and agencies behind the effort to change the law.

"Back in the 70s, between the drinking and driving and lack of seatbelts, the death rate was huge."

Jackie Norman was 18 when George Currie hired her out of high school to be his administrative support. Today she's the president and CEO of Safety Services Nova Scotia.

Currie was a "visionary who really wanted to save lives," she said. Besides seatbelts and impaired driving, he pushed other issues such as workplace safety training and developed the motorcycle safety course that's still used in the province today.

He was also focused on supporting young people and pushing them to strive for success, said Norman. Todd Currie said his dad came by that naturally.

George Currie learned from his father, a veteran of the Battle of Vimy Ridge who came back from France missing a leg, the importance of giving everyone an opportunity and pushing people to realize their potential.

It's something George Currie tried to impart on the people he worked with and also his own children, including Todd, who was born with cerebral palsy.

"My dad didn't really give a crap about that. If I needed to go up a ladder, he said, 'Well, son, go up a ladder.' If he ordered two cords of wood … guess what my job was," said Currie.

"He'd draw a path for where we had to go … He was a pretty good guy."