An Irish-Canadian success story for the ages

As featured in The Celtic Connection - May 2012

In a serendipitous turn of events, only yesterday morning I was thinking about writing a piece on Irish-Canadian John Furlong when local news station CKNW reported that the man himself had become the new Executive Chair for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

I've admired Mr. Furlong from a distance since arriving in Canada in June 2009. Back then, Olympic buzz was electrifying the air and we really couldn't have arrived at a better time -- totally by accident of course.

John acted as the President and Chief Executive Officer of VANOC, which oversaw the preparation and execution of the highly successful 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics Games.

In John's very capable hands, everything went off without a hitch (ahem, aside from the brief Olympic Torch malfunction during the Opening Ceremonies which, if anything, made the whole scene more likeable in my humble opinion as it showed a more human side to events. Imperfectly perfect, John, that's the spirit!) 

His book, Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Countrydescribes how he led the Games through difficulties such as the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, a global recession (which Canada, for the most part, thankfully avoided) and an embarrassing no show of snow at Cypress Bowl. It became an instant national bestseller when it was launched on February 12, 2011 - the one year anniversary of the Games. 

Thanks to his proven expertise, in the aftermath of the now infamous 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot Furlong was appointed alongside Douglas Keefe to independently examine the unfortunate incident and to offer recommendations for the future, with a report entitled; The Night the City Became a Stadium: Independent Review of 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Playoffs Riot.

As a fellow Irish immigrant, you can see why I would look up to this guy. I've read on numerous occasions that John, a native of Tipp, vividly remembers getting off the plane in 1974 and the customs agent greeting him with; "Welcome to Canada. Make us better."

He wondered if everyone was told this (well John, I can tell you that I for one wasn't, so I'm not quite sure what that says about me?!), but he took from it that this beautiful country is a place where, if everybody makes a contribution, no matter how big or small, together we can achieve impossible things.

He also said he never intended to stay but, a mere twelve years later in 1986, he had become a Canadian Squash Champion. Fast forward twenty-five years later and John was voted one of the top 25 Canadian Immigrants in 2010, received an Order of BC and an Order of Canada, and in 2009 was named Canada's Most Influential Sport Figure while, more recently, became BC's Sportsman of the Decade.

What an inspiration.

It seems funny to me now that an Irishman should give Canada a much-needed sense of patriotism back in 2010, but I somehow think it's only fitting that an 'outsider' shine a light on this diamond in the rough, as we all know and love homegrown Canadians for their inexplicable sense of modesty.

Hell, I want to scream my love for this melting pot from the rooftops - and I do (after a few!) That's why I established this blog in the first place, that's been viewed by tens of thousands of newcomers just like me, thirsty for all that wonderful Vancouver has to offer, and why everyday I'm blown away by some new and exciting element I hadn't noticed before.

It took a compatriot to bring us all together, cheering in the streets - all of our differing ethnicities, all of our differing interests - which is something I'm certain he'll bring to the Whitecaps too, and which seems like a perfect fit given our soccer fanaticism across the pond.

John Furlong, you're my hero.

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