Laughter, song and good works earn David Simmonds award

David Simmonds, standing, with Earl Bakken
David Simmonds, standing, with Earl Bakken

David Simmonds brings music and humour to his community and inspires hope in people with Parkinson’s. For these gifts, and many more, he was recently honoured with a Bakken award, which included a trip to Hawaii last month and a $20,000 ($US) donation to a charity of his choice. He honoured Parkinson Canada with this gift. David was selected as one of twelve honorees from more than 200 applicants from around the world.

“Humour can inspire others, both those living with the same condition who are fearful, and those without it, who gain an appreciation of its challenges,” David says.  He also notes that while those who have a medical condition often garner attention and accolades for their accomplishments and perseverance: “It is those who journey with us, the caregivers, who should not be forgotten. They are the true stars,” he adds.

Diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s 23 years ago at the age of 39, David underwent deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery five years ago.  Once the stimulation was stabilized, it gave him a new freedom of movement. “I no longer had to strategize in coping with the basics of my life. Was I going to take the pill first, or open the cupboard to get a glass, or figure out which tap to turn on to get some water,” he says. “It gave me a baseline level of functionality that was much higher than before.”

Still, the long trip to Hawaii can be gruelling for anyone, not just a person living with Parkinson’s. “Travelling to Hawaii was a challenge I didn’t think I’d want to do, but I was able to accomplish it,” he says. David’s wife Dr. Michelle Simmonds traveled with him to Hawaii and his daughter Erica, 33, of Vancouver, met them there. David also has a son Jeremy, 31, who lives in Ottawa.

While the award activities were scheduled over three days, the family stayed an extra week in the tropical paradise. It was a balmy 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) every day and they visited a number of the sights, including the Volcanoes National Park. What stood out most for David though was meeting his fellow honorees.  “They all appeared to be in robust health and had accomplished some outstanding things since being fitted with their medical devices.”

Living with a medical device is a qualification for Medtronic’s Bakken Invitation, honouring the legacy of Medtronic co-founder and humanitarian Earl Bakken, who challenges others to give back to their communities with the “extra” life they have gained through medical technologies. “Live On. Give On.” is the award’s slogan.

David Simmonds, second from left, standing, with the other 2015 Bakken honourees and Earl Bakken, seated, centre.
David Simmonds, second from left, standing, with the other 2015 Bakken honourees and Earl Bakken, seated, centre.

And David has certainly given a great deal to the Parkinson’s community. He served as Chair of Parkinson Society Canada and was instrumental in bringing independent Parkinson’s organizations into a federation, with one national voice.

Debbie Davis, Vice President, Mission and Managing Director, Ontario at Parkinson Canada, had this to say about David: “Working tirelessly, David traveled across Canada meeting other volunteers to show them the value for people with Parkinson’s if all agencies worked together. This inspirational work showed David’s passion and commitment to the community while living well with Parkinson’s.”

Joyce Gordon, Parkinson Canada’s CEO adds, “It was David’s vision to bring together all neurological charities in Canada, in 2008, into a coalition called Neurological Health Charities Canada (NHCC.) This group secured $15 million to undertake a National Population Health Study of Neurological Conditions, the first of its kind in Canada, which was released in 2014.”

In addition to these outstanding contributions, David has also testified at several government task forces on health and shared his Parkinson’s journey with many audiences. In recognition of his contributions, Parkinson Canada established the David Simmonds Parkinson’s Leadership Award, and embraced his song I won’t see darkness, I’ll see light.

That’s right; David is also a musician and a newspaper columnist. Before retiring in 2000, David was a lawyer in Ottawa. His wife Michelle worked as a physician. They left the nation’s capital and moved to the Village of Wellington, population 1,700, in Prince Edward County, on the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s a picturesque spot with a mix of urban and rural dwellers. The Simmonds dove right in to the life of their new community.

These days Michelle and David perform with a band called Station Road at community charitable events and David performs his own songs at open mikes around Prince Edward County. “I’ve always been musical, but hadn’t done it seriously before stopping work,” he says. He and a friend, Sjef Frenken of Ottawa, are just completing a CD of 32 songs they have co-written, with David writing the lyrics.

David also writes a humourous column for the Wellington Times, about 250 of them so far, many of which are reprinted at www.grubstreet.ca. A recent column speculates that the Canada Revenue Agency could spruce up their tax form mailings by taking inspiration from the direct marketing efforts of Reader’s Digest. Check out www.wellingtontimes.ca for more chuckles from David.

And, if you’d like to hear some of David’s songs, we’ve got 10 copies of his CD The Parlour Recordings: Serious, Sad, Silly & Spiritual Songs, to give away to the first 10 readers who post a comment on this story. If you make a comment, please also send your mailing address to us at: communications@parkinson.ca, so we can mail you your CD.

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