Sunday, August 5, 2012

Louder Than Words

Henry spoke in forced, frustrated breaths. Each word seemed pushed from his lips. I followed the movement of his lips as they formed each syllable. Every word seemed important. Each sentence was short. His eyes were earnest and bright with intensity. He leaned forward in his chair. He wanted me to hear him. He needed me to listen. The message was clear. He wants to help others. He wants to make a difference, to leave a legacy.  He reminded me of  the fighting spirit of Mohammed Ali. 
Since being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 12 years ago, Henry Block, as you would expect, has increasingly avoided the limelight, preferring instead the company of his wife and family; his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They are his support group.  At 86 years old, Henry is living a very different life than he has been used to, or expected. For more than six decades he demonstrated his strong work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit and successful business instinct. This was notably evident when in 1955, he and his brother, Art, established Block Bros., which grew through the 1960s and 70s to be one of the largest real estate development firms in Canada. He had been a powerful spokesperson, a strong advocate for business pursuits, philanthropy and his faith. But Parkinson's disease has a way of stealing some of the best parts of us, leaving instead uncontrollable trembling, immobilizing stiffness, disabling exhaustion, and deep depression. In Henry's case, the thief made off with his independence. Instead of driving a brand-new luxury vehicle, he is left in need of a walker for indoors and a mobility scooter for outdoors. The robber stole his movement control, forcing him to go through deep brain stimulation surgery, which in turn left him without his clear and clarion ability to speak. 
At Henry's age, most folks, whether healthy or not, are hanging onto life while at the same time wondering about the purpose in doing so. Not so with Henry. He is committed to helping others, even if it risks attracting public pity as a person with Parkinson's, rather than applause as a successful businessman. So it was no real surprise when Henry, and his wife Laura, and other members of the family, made a commitment to the Parkinson's Society of British Columbia and their key fundraising event, SuperWalk. They could've done so financially, but Henry wanted to do more than write a cheque. He wanted to participate.  Years ago, in recognition of the importance of working together he said, "Our future is each other, and…together we continue to create a community." I was impressed by his willing to take the humbling step of publicly standing (or maybe sitting) with a community of other people with Parkinson's in a fundraising event. Perhaps he typifies how weaknesses are quite capable of becoming strengths.  He reminds me of Mohammed Ali. 
Henry and his family sincerely want to help others challenged by the devastation of Parkinson's disease. Henry has committed to match the first $50,000 of those donating to the SuperWalk through "Hike for Hank". With that kind of offer, I wanted to help Henry help others. I will be joining Henry, his family and hundreds of others who will participate in Parkinson SuperWalk on September 9 at Bear Creek Park in Surrey, British Columbia. If you wish (no pressure), you can donate online at: and locate "Hike for Hank" team. Or you can use my shortcut:

Words are rarely the most trustworthy form of communication. As a lawyer, I have learned to be a little skeptical (okay, very skeptical).  The look in people's eyes, their facial expressions, body movements and language, and most of all action, speak louder than words.


  1. Great post! Henry is my grandfather, thank you for that touching article.
    -Steven Harris

  2. Nice info on Parkinson's. I just did a research paper on this disease! Henry seems like a sweet man!
    A. Adams