My Russian Adventure

I retired in 1994 while my wife Donna was still working. One evening she said, “You need to keep yourself occupied with all the spare time you have now. There is a story in the Brantford Expositor about the Canadian Executive Service Organization providing retired business people like you with the opportunity to use your skills and experience helping small business enterprises overseas in developing countries, those emerging from communism and in aboriginal communities in Canada, to organize and build their own new business models. You now have the time, expertise and skills to do this and you should look into joining.” I submitted my application in February 1994 and was accepted as a Volunteer Advisor in May that same year.

I accepted my first overseas assignment in June,1995. It was for 30 days in Izhevsk, Russia, a city in the Ural Mountains approximately 2000 kilometers east of Moscow. I would be conducting seminars and workshops for business people in the construction and building materials distribution industry.

I contacted many of my former suppliers in the building industry to prepare a library of catalogues and brochures to take with me as educational information and exhibits describing building materials and products that are available in Canada. I proceeded to learn as much as I could about the culture, history and politics of Russia by speaking with other CESO-VA’s who had completed assignments in Russia and searching on Google. I obtained and studied a Russian/English Language dictionary and phrase book in preparation to communicate with the people I would be teaching and dealing with. With help from my wife, Donna, who taught student nurses at Mohawk College, Brantford General Hospital Campus, I prepared information and teaching materials I would need to present at the workshops and seminars. My first major learning curve was to make my presentations as interesting, educational and enjoyable as possible.

On a Thursday evening in late October, I left Toronto International Airport via Lufthansa Airways for an overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I then took an early Friday morning flight to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, arriving mid-morning.

Clearing immigration and customs with four large, bags of luggage, I was met by Alexander Sergeev, Regional Representative for CESO in Russia. Arriving at the Hotel Rossia, a very large, 3000 room hotel, in downtown Moscow, I was given a room that overlooked the red and buff brick buildings of the Kremlin and Red Square, a very large square right in the heart of Moscow. I took the opportunity to spend Saturday visiting Red Square to see Lenin’s tomb and some of the Kremlin buildings as well as exploring the city center.

Before I left home a member of my church asked if I would take a Russian language bible [circa 1900] obtained at an auction and restored, and give it to Moscow Central Baptist Church. I said I would be honoured to do so. He had not told me it was a large, heavy Pulpit Bible. On Friday I contacted the pastor of the Moscow Central Baptist Church and attended their service on Sunday morning where I presented the bible. I sat with the clergy at the service and spoke to the congregation bringing greetings from the Canadian Baptist brethren. After the service I was invited to have lunch with them.

St Peters Cathedral Red Square with Rossiya Hotel where I stayed in back ground

St Peters Cathedral Red Square with Rossiya Hotel where I stayed in back ground

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Born June 1, 1930 I grew-up in the small farming community of Tranquility. Spent more than 50 years in all aspects of business management and marketing, volunteering in my community, nationally and internationally. Co-Founder of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (now Cystic Fibrosis Canada) for which both of us were awarded the Order of Canada and other honours. Now retired and writing stories about various events and experiences that have shaped my life. I married Donna Patricia Birdsell on October 20, 1951 and she has been my partner and soul mate for more than 65 years. We now have four grown children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
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