When the Gen Squeeze Campaign wins the day across Canada, bringing a better generational deal for all, we will owe a great debt to Dr. Clyde Hertzman. He passed away too suddenly, too soon, with so much more to say, give and do… last week in London England.
Clyde is the great mind, generous heart, and dogged determination behind some of the best child and family research on the planet today. In his early days, he studied contamination in lakes, examining the impact on human health. This research started Clyde down a path that revealed human beings are especially sensitive to our environments in our earliest years, well before we start school. Guided by this insight, Clyde devoted the rest of his career – with greater endurance than almost any person I know – to shine a light on the importance of children’s earliest experiences: their first moments, months and years.
Informed by the best, most complex research, his conclusions were simple. We must act, all of us: parents, grandparents, other family members, neighbourhoods, cities, cultural communities, faith groups, provinces, countries and the United Nations. We must all make the generations raising young children a priority each and every day, in each and every community, north and south, developed and developing.
Clyde advocated this call to action because his heart embraced individual children, caring passionately for the starts in life that they deserve throughout Canada and abroad.
Clyde advocated this call to action because his mind contemplated the entire species, insisting that the population’s health was at stake in the early years of each of its members. With some of the brightest researchers around the world, Clyde and colleagues began to show that human genes express themselves in response to the stimuli that babies and children encounter in their environments – gene expressions which may be passed down from one generation to the next, as science increasingly suggests.
Yes, when the Gen Squeeze Campaign wins the day in Canada, bringing a better generational deal for all, we will owe a great debt to Dr. Clyde Hertzman’s scholarship.
But our debt does not end with his scholarship. We are indebted to Clyde because he was also passionate about acting on it.
While breaking new ground in the fields of epigenetics and epidemiology, Clyde found time to lead the development of the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at the University of BC. He insisted on a unique mission for our research institute: to create, promote and apply new knowledge about early child development to help children and families thrive. For those outside a university, this mission statement may seem ordinary. But in the university, it was, and remains, extraordinary.
The vast majority of university organizations are content simply to create knowledge, leaving the application to others. Not Clyde. More than any other exceptional academic I know, he devoted as much time to making research accessible for the general public as he did to conducting that research in the first place. Clyde distilled astoundingly complex data into colourful maps, diagrams, sound bites and speeches intelligible to all. An impassioned, inspirational orator, Clyde then traveled from the Stó:lō First Nations to the Stikine, from Victoria to Halifax, from Switzerland to Tanzania, sharing this research to encourage new investments in the generation raising young children, and to monitor the fulfillment of our obligations to children and their families, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is an understatement to observe that the Gen Squeeze Campaign has its origins, and owes its existence, to Clyde’s commitment that HELP research make a positive difference in communities locally, nationally and globally. When we are one day successful, achieving a better generational deal for all in Canada, we will have Clyde to thank for showing how to foster greater public understanding to stimulate action for positive change.
I fear that Clyde’s unexpected passing does not simply create a void, or absence. I fear it creates something akin to a black hole, which risks sapping the energy from many important initiatives. Although Clyde is truly irreplaceable, I believe he would encourage us to recognize that many hands can make light work of all that he did. Please join me in honouring this legacy by helping to pick up together the torch of leadership that he has carried for so long.
In these early days of mourning, I take solace in the time we had with him – as a friend, mentor, leader and outstanding citizen. Thank you Clyde.
My heart goes out to your partner Marcy, mother Eileen, brother Owen, children Eric, Emily, and Amos, along with their families.