By RON FANFAIR
Not too many events could have upstaged last Sunday’s soccer World Cup finals between first-time winner Spain and three-time losing finalist The Netherlands.
The exception was a community celebration to rename the Carr St. Parkette, Randy Padmore Park, in the Alexandra Park neighbourhood where Padmore was among the first residents and a student at Ryerson Public School.
Padmore was killed in a fiery three-vehicle crash near his Mississauga home in May 2009. He was 51.
“There are very, very few things that could have kept me away from watching the World Cup final and this certainly is one of them,” said City of Toronto administrator and longtime friend Ken Jeffers. “He was about this neighbourhood which was always very close to his heart.
“There was a time in this area when all was not well. We had the Black Canadians from Nova Scotia, those born in Toronto and a wave of immigrants arriving from the Caribbean and Africa. There was some friction between these groups and Randy played a significant role in bringing the communities together. He was a unifier.”
Padmore spent most of his life working with young people in Alexandra Park and at the Atkinson Housing Co-op which is Canada’s first public housing conversion.
“For a long time, Randy struggled to find what was important to him,” said former St. Christopher House volunteer and veteran community worker Bob Ellis. “Acquiring a job with the Atkinson Housing Co-op helped to turn him around and make him understand that his strength was working with youths.”
Councillors Pam McConnell and Adam Vaughan joined Padmore’s widow, Pauline, in celebrating the naming of the park.
“There is not a young person or adult in this neighbourhood who did not know who Randy was,” said Vaughan who was a schoolmate of Padmore at Oakwood Collegiate Institute. “He did not just talk about getting ahead in life, but he worked hard instead. He led by example and he directed young kids to make better and smarter choices in life. And where they did not have a choice, he found a way to provide them with one.
“I know that maybe this park is one way by which we can honour Randy, but the real way to honour him is to look out for the other ones. As you move forward, make sure someone is moving ahead with you. If we can do anything to make Randy proud, it’s not just by standing in this park here and celebrating him. It’s by remembering that the kids and young people need our help to move forward.”
McConnell said Padmore would have appreciated the large turnout at the event.
“He would have been so happy to see the community together,” she added. “That was what was really important to him…He really understood community and he loved his family.”
In addition to his wife, Padmore – who enjoyed the outdoors and soul music and loved to barbecue in the summer – is survived by his mother Carol and daughters Delanie and Cassandra.
“This day is beyond special,” said Cassandra, who is a Ryerson University journalism student. “Anybody who knew my dad knows how much he loved this neighbourhood and its people.
“My dad was very outgoing and he never walked by anyone without saying hello to them. He did not have to know you to extend that courtesy.”
Padmore established the Dexter Johnson basketball program and scholarship to honour the former community leader and Seneca College basketball standout who passed away a few years ago. His community work also extended to St. Lawrence where he spearheaded the production of a community mosaic and Malvern where he helped to form a youth group.
Several close family friends, including Juno-award winner and Order of Canada recipient Molly Johnson, journalist Robert Payne and Lee Ann Mercury, daughter of the late Al Mercury who would have celebrated his 78th birthday last Sunday (he died 12 years ago), attended the ceremony.
There are a few City of Toronto facilities named after Black Canadians.
In November 2007, the city dedicated an east end Parkette to honour retired Citizenship court judge Stanley Grizzle and 11 months later, a new park near King St. W. and Dufferin St. was named after retired librarian Rita Cox.
Empringham and Eastview Parks were renamed after youth workers Shawn “Blu” Rose, who succumbed to an aneurysm in 2005, and Kempton Howard, who was murdered in December 2003, respectively.
North York’s Centennial Arena was renamed the Herbert H. Carnegie Arena in 2001 to honour the former ice hockey player; the Harry Gairey Ice Rink was dedicated in memory of the late activist who was considered the patriarch of Toronto’s Black community and Flemingdon Arena was renamed last year to honour Canadian hockey star Angela James who was last month inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.