Brad White became the new Dominion Secretary for The Royal Canadian Legion on Sept. 12, 2009.
White wants to increase the Legion’s relevancy and make the organization more active in all aspects, particularly in its service to veterans. White, a Canadian Forces veteran, is accustomed to the leadership role and is willing to take risks to get the job done. He has firmly positioned himself to fight the tough battles ahead—increasing membership, building unity and public awareness. Out of this, he believes, will emerge a more modern Legion, one that is even stronger in its ability to support veterans.
The Dominion Secretary has personal reasons to stand by veterans, as a third-generation military man he knows first-hand the sacrifices both they and their families have made. His family’s military history began with his paternal grandfather, “Lefty” White, who did double duty as a school teacher in Saskatchewan and a reserve officer, a major, with the South Saskatchewan Regiment. During the Second World War the regiment was mobilized, sent to England and then France as part of the raid on Dieppe. “They landed on a beach called Green Beach at Pourville,” White explained. His grandfather was reported killed in action that same day, Aug. 19, 1942. Months later his grandmother received a telegram from the Red Cross informing her that her husband was alive and a prisoner of war. Lefty was liberated with the end of hostilities and in an ironic twist of fate the airplane carrying him back to England crashed. He recuperated in hospital in England until he was well enough to finally come home.
White’s father, Trevor, was a jet pilot who flew F-86 Sabres. Brad was born in 1956 while his father was stationed in Germany. He grew up on military bases before joining the army at the age of 19. After getting his commission he was posted to the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s). He served in Canada, Germany and on a United Nations tour in Cyprus. His career included duties with the National Joint Plans staff, and the Directorate of Defence Analysis. He retired in 1998 as a lieutenant-colonel, and went to work as an administrative officer and then later as a director of administration at Dominion Command.
Those years of experience helped sharpen White’s ideas and prepared him to tackle some of the crucial issues now confronting the Legion. “We’ve always talked about membership,” he said. “But I think one of the other critical issues that we have is our visibility with Canadians, and their knowledge of what we do. It’s interesting, you go across the country and you talk to people, they say, ‘The Royal Canadian Legion?’ they look at me and say, ‘Are you the bartender?’ I say, ‘Well no, not quite.’ Then I explain what the Legion is about. I explain the programs, explain how we assist in the communities, what we do for veterans, and all those other good things that we do. They’re just flabbergasted that we do all these things.”
In the short term White will focus on disseminating information by not only improving the public awareness of the Legion, but by improving communication within the organization. He believes that with communication comes understanding and perhaps the inclination to join the Legion. In addition to the public drive for membership he also wants to target those who do not renew.
Beyond attacking membership issues, White intends to strengthen the organization by breaking down the “we” and “they” perception that persists within the Legion and usher in an era of transparency. “If you can understand you’re part of a bigger organization then you can see where you fit in, and how important it is, that’s really the basis of what we are all about. More than a dozen organizations came together in 1925 from all different regions of the country to form the Legion.”
At the end of October the new Dominion Secretary will meet with other veterans groups to discuss strategies for the future, specifically the idea of unity among veterans groups.
The Legion has the people and infrastructure in place to advocate for veterans, and by demonstrating this capability to the other veterans groups, White hopes they may be encouraged to come on board. “We are the only veterans organization that has a service bureau to provide free assistance to people when they walk in the door. We have a network that looks after them. We have an infrastructure that stretches from one end of the country to the other, into the United States, and over to Europe. That’s a large infrastructure; over 1,500 branches.”
Dominion Executive Council has embraced the new Legion motto ‘We Care’ which pleases White. “That’s an important thing, because it allows us to be flexible in whom we talk to. We care about the military. We care about our nation. We care about our community.
“Veterans when they came home from war built a country. You can’t say they didn’t care about their nation. They were ready to sacrifice for their nation. That’s something that we have to build on.”
Although White has faith that modern-day veterans are being served as well as those from the world wars and Korea he also understands that there are difficult challenges ahead—post-traumatic stress disorder is a clear example. Nevertheless, in the face of these complex problems his optimism shows, “I think we’re capable of dealing with and analysing issues better than we were before.”
White has started his tenure with energy and enthusiasm and he intends to stay around long enough to make a difference. “I don’t want to be the undertaker, and I don’t just want to be the caretaker. I’d like to be the risk taker.”
As for his family life, he is married with two kids. He met his wife Thérèse in the forces where she served as a military social worker. The service tradition continues in their children, Jonathan and Erik, who are currently serving with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.