Roger George of Powassan, a president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) during the early 1990s and one of seven inductees to the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame for 2021, would be one of the first people to tell you that had he stayed in England, he would never have been elected to any farm organization.
But events and hard economic times paved the way for George to lead the OFA during contentious times and help bring about pivotal farm programs.
During his early years as a rural leader, George realized an independent farmer couldn't survive.
“If we're interdependent and work together, we can do anything,” he said.
Looking back on his involvement, George says a lot was accomplished and his perceptions and attitude also changed during his formative years to his leadership period.
“I really did build an amazing relationship with bureaucrats who 20 years previously I hated every one of them,” George said.
“But they became amazing resources just like my colleagues in the farming groups. And when you have everyone in your corner, it becomes a lot easier to fight battles.”
George soaked up knowledge early on as a farm leader and knew how to use it to a farmer's advantage.
In the early 1980s, he learned a valuable lesson from Nipissing MP Jean-Jacques Blais. He gave Blais a technical presentation at a meeting, which the MP found informative but not memorable.
“He thanked me for the information saying it was interesting and that he was going to have his staff pore over the numbers,” recalled George.
“But then Blais said when you talk to a politician, tell him a story he's going to remember, and if you can make him cry, so much the better.”
George put the advice to work shortly after against Paul Cosgrove, who held several federal government portfolios, including minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
It was a period of terrible grain prices. George told Cosgrove of a Bruce County farm family who let their tractor driver go because they couldn't afford to pay him. The family's 12-year-old son began driving the tractor and during spring seeding, the young boy died when the tractor overturned.
George says Cosgrove became emotional when he heard the story, and from a farming standpoint the sector now had a sympathetic ear.
“Here was a politician who knew nothing about agriculture, but we told him a story he would never forget,” George said.
Telling politicians emotional stories was a device George used for years to come, and counts former Ontario premier Bob Rae as one of the people he could tell a story to that grabbed his attention.
George's last heavy duty involvement with the agriculture sector ended around 2004.
He didn't sit idle, but became involved with economic development in Powassan and for a time chaired the municipality's economic development committee.
He also was a founding member of the community's family health team.
But these days George is pretty well retired with his second wife, Laurel J. Campbell, a journalist with North Bay Nipissing News, after his first wife Rosemary died in 2007.
During COVID-19 last year, George completed his memoirs, which he tells in anecdote form.
The book has its beginnings shortly after Rosemary passed away when George, accompanied by Campbell, took his son Michael to England on the anniversary of his mother's death.
“I wanted to show him the haunts where his mother and I used to hang out when we were in our 20s,” George said.
The family went to many pubs and George recounted numerous tales with old friends of their days as wild young people.
“The next day, Michael said to me he began to understand some of the stories he'd heard over the years actually have some semblance of truth, and told me I should write them down before I dropped dead and he would never know what I did,” George said.
In 2009, George began writing his memoirs. It was a process he started and stopped over the years until he began writing about his life in anecdote form.
The book highlights his experiences with agriculture but mostly deals with his personal life, and for that reason George says it won't be released publicly.
The book, which he calls 'Odyssey,' was written for Michael and only a handful were printed.
“An odyssey is a long, winding journey that has all these twists, turns, adventures, as well as ups and downs,” George said.
“You also have no idea where it's going to end, if it ends at all, and there's absolutely no guarantee of a happy ending. I felt that sums up my life pretty much. It's been a real winding journey.”
With 'Odyssey' now complete, George has more to say about his life and says he plans to call the followup book 'Etcetera.'
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget