Premier Wynne praises ‘Coach’ Parkhill as ‘woman who most influenced her in life’
By Mark Clairmont/MuskokaTODAILY
BRACEBRIDGE — If you tuned into the George Stroumboulopolous Show last night on CBC TV you not only saw the new host of Hockey Night in Canada, but also comedian Andrea Martin, who has a new TV show.
And hopefully you stayed for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in the big red chair.
She answered questions about her Liberal government, her leadership and a pending spring election.
But what George didn’t ask her is: “What one woman influenced you most in life.”
Well, you don’t have to wait for Strombo to tell you.
The answer to that question came last week on International Women’s Day, in a Toronto Star story about eight prominent Canadian women.
The Star asked: “Is there a woman in your life you’d like to thank, someone who helped you along the way?”
Huntsville’s golden girls Dara Howell was among those who answered.
The Sochi snowboarder said it was her mom, Dee.
“She always said ‘Dara, whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. As long as you love what you do, you will succeed.”
When retired teacher and Bracebridge native Bonnie (Bailey) Parkhill read that, she thought how sweet.
But when Parkhill scanned down the page further, she saw an old “friend” — and was “blown away.”
Wynne was one of the other seven women who responded — including author Margaret Atwood, Meg Tilly, Dr. Janet Rossant Measha Brueggergosman, Sook-Yin Lee and Howell’s fellow Olympic medalist Kim Lamarre.
And when Parkhill read just which woman who “most helped” Wynne “along the way,” she almost spilled her morning coffee she had half way to her lips.
For there, in the words of Ontario’s most powerful woman, came the name Bonnie Parkhill, her track coach at Richmond Hill High School in the 1960s (actually the early 1970s).
“Back then, we were still using like language like ‘women’s liberation,’” Wynne is quoted in an email for the story.
“And Bonnie was just quietly encouraging all the time. She never lost her cool and was incredibly fair, and really believed in us, and that made a huge difference. She also chose me to go to the Ontario Athletic Leadership Camp in Orillia (GenevaPark) when I was in Grade 11. I’d never had anyone say explicitly that I had leadership potential, and the experience of being chosen and then the leadership camp itself made me see myself differently.
“Bonnie is a big reason that I have the confidence to do the things I have done.
“And she’s been a touchstone all my life.”
So you can thank ‘Coach’ Parkhill for Ontario’s leadership.
“She didn’t need much direction, she had leadership potential,” Parkhill told MuskokaTODAILY.
“She was a self starter and a great kid.
“I’m pretty high on her as a human being,” said Parkhill, who called Wynne “a great organizer.”
Parkhill emailed Wynne last year when she was thinking of running for the Liberal party leadership.
She encouraged her, telling her she could do it and that the timing was right and that at 60 she’d regret it if she waited any longer.
Parkhill was among a couple dozen people at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre at the MuskokaWharf when Wynne was the only Liberal leadership candidate to bring her campaign to the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding.
“She gave me a call and said to come by,” said Parkhill, who said Wynne never changed as an adult.
And while Parkhill says she’s not politically affiliated, “If I lived in her riding, I’d vote for her.”
She remembers “Kathy” — as she calls her — fondly and as always being “in the face of the principal” if she thought students weren’t being treated fairly.
Wynne was “an amazing athlete and runner — physically and otherwise — especially in the 440-yard dash, as they used to call it. But she was mad because at that time they didn’t have all-Ontarios for girls – only boys.
So, if you see those Liberal TV commercials this year of Wynne running – you know it’s for real.
Her dad was always at her track meets taking photos, recording her school records and feats.
Parkhill and her former husband Jim moved to Bracebridge in the late ’70s, where he was vice-principal at BMLSS and she was a teacher for a couple of years before taking time off to have her twin daughters Nancy and Yvonne.
In 1976 she returned to school at GHS where she taught phys-ed, English, history and other subjects for almost 20 years before retiring.
She now keeps busy playing the baritone in the Gravenhurst Bifocals Band and the Muskoka Concert Band, among other things.
She said after reading the piece last week, she called Wynne at home to thank her and had to leave a message because it was constituent week.
But she knows the premier will get back to her soon.
Because that’s the kind of person Kathy Wynne is and that’s what friends do.
And because Wynne still considers her former phys-ed teacher and track coach a “touchstone” in her busy political life.
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