Richard Ruston – Life long advocate for the People First Movement and past President of People First of Ontario and People First of Canada. Richard passed on Feb. 22.2021 in hospital in Windsor, ON (this is a work in progress in tribute to our friend Richard) Tributes from friends follow….
Richard Ruston Life Celebration. April 10 1 – 3:30
People First of Ontario: This Is My Life video series features People First of Ontario Members talking about their lives and the issues that are important to them – like having a home, a job, or a relationship, and the importance of advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities. In this video, In this video, Richard Ruston talks about his journey to getting his own home and what it means to him to live in and be included in his community.
Dom – you truly walked with Richard – his ups and downs medically, through the People First Project, through the resurgence of People First of Windsor and many other areas of his life – he trusted you completely!
Xavier, I saw the picture of Richard in his younger years and it immediately had me reminiscing about how People First of Windsor started.
On my second day of work at Family Service Windsor in 1991, Jan Brown, Jeff Phillips and I were walking downtown to grab some lunch and as we got closer we could see people with visible disabilities. They were sitting in their wheelchairs with cut out bleach bottles begging for money for the program they were part of. It was a 90 degree day and they had no water. The volunteers who stood beside them on every corner were just as hot and exhausted as the folks they were with! It was disgusting! I called Malcolm Jeffrey’s at Community Living Windsor and, as you can imagine, I lost it! He told me to get in touch with Richard and told me where I could find him! I hung up the phone and went to find this Richard Ruston! I found him, let him know Malcolm suggested I talk with him and then passionately told him what was happening and he was looking at me with that Richard look of: What the . . .? Richard did come with me downtown and spoke with some of the folks in a way that only Richard could! He was so upset!
We talked about what to do and People of Windsor began! At that time the money for the program that people were raising money for ran through Community Living Windsor and so Richard wrote his first People First letter to Malcolm saying that nobody with a disability should have to beg for money on street corners! He wrote about the conditions that these folks were placed in and that many of them were not able to communicate – that the volunteers had to do it for them! By the end of the that same day, Richard personally handed that letter to Malcolm and Malcolm took it from there. It never happened again.
Richard’s involvement and leadership with People First brought changes to CLW’s Employment Program, People First along with other autonomous advocacy groups – Windsor Essex Family Network and Family and Friends (a seniors advocacy group) were offered office space. He headed up a project in Windsor “Keeping Your Dreams Alive” – he met with many people labelled with a developmental disability, assisting them to think about their life – where they wanted to live, to work and what they wanted to be involved in in their community. People began to speak up and stand for what they wanted!
Richard was the People First rep on our local restructuring group. He ensured that ministry reps, service providers, family and community members knew that people needed to be in the ‘directors’ chair. Everyone can direct their life, even people who don’t speak like me as he would say and urged others to listen to them, listen, listen! He believed in individualized funding so that people could live their lives in the way they chose to with the support of their family and friends. He recognized that paid support was necessary but should never replace family and friends. Richard believed in individualized funding. He believed in planning outside the service agencies and, as a founding board member, was instrumental in starting Windsor Essex Brokerage for Personal Supports. Richard was very clear about the values and principles from which “Brokerage” was to operate.
He withstood claims that Individualized funding (IF) would be the demise of programs and that, because he could speak, individualized funding would work for him but not for others. Mike Harris (Ontario Premier at the time) created a policy paper Making Services Work for People. We began to think about what would be needed to give people and their trusted family and friends more control in their lives. Windsor and Essex began a very difficult restructuring process. Richard, Michelle Friesen, Malcolm and I were invited to Thunderbay to talk about why we were restructuring, what had happened to date and where we wanted to go next. Malcom was making his part of the presentation and in the middle of that presentation, ED’s (Malcom’s colleagues) got up and left. Richard said to me after we got home from Thunderbay – “Malcolm, you and Michelle Friesen were treated just the same way I have been treated most of my life – we were all dismissed”!
Richard always had one foot solidly in Windsor with People First of Windsor but also became involved with People First of Ontario and then with People First of Canada.
Richard was my colleague – his mentoring, guidance, leadership – those learnings I have never forgotten and work to understand and listen, listen, listen to folks as they determine their life paths and involvement in their neighbourhoods and communities.
Richard: a loyal friend and advocate. He suffered and had the courage to speak out of his own lived experiences. Richard grew up in the People First Movement. He never stopped acknowledging Pat Worth and Peter Park who founded People First. He had so much humility. He had a lot to overcome in his own life and family and yet he was very determined. Once he set his mind on something he was unstoppable. His courage was amazing. He was unfaltering in his commitment to bringing attention to those who use complex ways of communicating what they are feeling and thinking. He was not afraid of taking on systems and knew what it took to build safeguards so that People First could not be coerced into inaction. He was a leader in the People First movement. That was not easy. There were lots of dynamics that make standing up tall and being heard difficult. He was a man who did the best he could. He had a deep compassion for others. He was passionate about people having their rights acknowledged and honoured. He always tilted his head when he needed to share a painful story or tell a difficult truth that others did not want to hear., clear sorrowful eyes so profound that no-one could doubt his words and their meaning.
May he know his worth. May others remember his courage and determination to bring more love and inclusion into the world. May we live by his example.
It is with profound sadness that I am writing to let you know that Richard Ruston passed away in hospital last night at the age of 55. He had been in the hospital a few weeks. Unfortunately he contracted COVID in the hospital and died of complications from COVID.
Richard was on the Board of Community Living for 25 years. He was a friend and mentor to many of us. He was my most solid supporter, calling me daily when the pandemic first hit, just to see if I was okay.
Richard was a well known and highly respected activist. He was the President of both People First of Ontario and People First of Canada as well as starting a local chapter of People First here in Windsor. Richard travelled both nationally and internationally to help encourage the formation of People First Chapters. He was also an avid advocate of the closure of institutions and was involved in The Freedom Tour, a documentary made in partnership with the National Film Board which was released in 2008. The film documented the trip of a group of advocates across the Prairies, where stories of people who survived the institutions were discovered and filmed. Richard participated as an advocate and an interviewer.
In addition to all of his accomplishments Richard was an ardent supporter of respectful language and the right to self-determination. He believed strongly that people needed to be heard, that people need to be given information in plain/accessible language and that the words used to describe people mattered.
At his heart, Richard was an incredibly kind man, who always had time for people who needed him, and all the patience in the world to listen.
Community Living Windsor, the city of Windsor, the province of Ontario and our country has lost a great man. He will leave a huge void and will be missed. May we all learn from the tremendous example he set. Melodie
“To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.”~ Thomas Campbell
Funeral arrangements have not yet been confirmed.
I also want to share a memory of the last time I saw Richard, which was at our Gathering here in London, in November, 2019, through the Uncovering the People’s History Project, to listen to stories of survivors of institutions and stories of their families. One of the women sharing her experience was having a rough moment, and Richard, who was there as a “sacred witness”, along with several other self-advocacy leaders, went up and stood beside her…didn’t say a word, jut stood with her. It was likely the most moving and powerful moment in a day filled with them, and was such a perfect example of quiet support through that presence. I shared this with people on the email Dom sent and wanted to offer it here as well.
I am so deeply sorry for this loss. He was a wonderful person and contributed so much to increasing voice and power and opportunities for people who have been excluded.
Hopefully there will be a time in the not too distant future to honour his life and work.
Sending love to all of you who loved him so well!
Wow… Where do I start, First and foremost my heart is with you, as I know how much Richard meant to you all!
Richard was a man of his word, he was a mentor, friend and someone who I looked up too, he would guide me, support me and fight the very issue!
I got to learn so much about his life, we got to travel many times and share a hotel room, we would chat non stop
Richard always opened his arms to me
We laughed and joked many times
He like Peter encouraged me to get involved In People First and he asked me to run for National President, I was only 21 when I got involved, however Richard believed that we need young people
So much respect for him, he has left a legacy that will last a lifetime!
He made my life much better, he brought so much joy!
Our world is better because of him!
Now it is our job to carry on the Torch and always remember what Richard would do.
he will be watching over us and his spirit will.live in our hearts!
I could go on as he has done so much..
I am so grateful to hear your reflections Marlyn. Richard’s relationships with you, Malcolm, and Dom, along with his admiration, respect for, and relationship with Peter Park and Pat Worth, provided a foundation of respect and belief in Richard, that made it possible for him to truly make a difference. He made a difference in the lives of individual people, many whose voices and ways of speaking would never have been heard, and for a much wider swath of people in Ontario, and across Canada, who desired and deserved to simply be treated as fellow citizens, neighbours, friends, and colleagues.
I know how important Richard’s relationships in Windsor have always been. They grounded him in what needed to be different, and in what was possible. I know that people like Michelle Friesen and the Family Support network, saw Richard as compadre, an ally and friend who could and would listen, and be able to articulate what was important in the lives of the sons and daughters who they love, and carry these voices into community conversations with self advocates across the province, and into the policy places he would find his way into. I know that Richard’s experience and passion were recognized by Malcolm as essential to Community Living Windsor’s future, and that Xavier carried this forward in his years as leader.
I was truly blessed to walk alongside Richard through his years as President of People First of Ontario. I was in awe of his wisdom and passion. I watched first hand his deep respect for the wisdom of the elders in the movement, his relationship with Peter Park in particular was filled with love and respect. He would turn to Peter for wise guidance, and Peter recognized the future in Richard. I watched Richard carry on this role as mentor to his friends in People First of Windsor, and in his guidance and support of the rising leadership Barb Folk, and Rose Barko. In this experience with Richard, and the wider People First movement I witnessed that how exclusion means that the mainstream culture is missing out on the gifts of people that are excluded. I experienced how Marg McLean as Provincial Advisor, knew the importance of Richard’s gut level passion and compassion for mobilizing people.
Richard’s personal commitment to wade through the hard parts, in search of what is desired and rightly deserved, leaves me with the feeling that his was a life well lived, imperfect and whole in its imperfection. I always felt respected by Richard, and I in turn always felt respect for him. I loved my opportunity to work with him, and it remains a significant part of forming who I am and how I see the world.
My heart goes to all who are experiencing Richard’s passing all too soon.
February 24 at 9:00 AM · I am at lost and totally shocked, I lost a great friend, a mentor, someone who I looked up too. Richard Ruston you where my mentor, someone who always had my back, we used to share the same hotel room, share many laughs, many jokes. You give me so much support, advice, you where one of my biggest champions, you encouraged me to run National as President, I will miss your friendship, we had many conversations overs the years and yes it was after 10pm lol. Thank-you for enriching my life, you made a positive impact on me, I will miss our important work together! You have left a legacy that will last a lifetime, the world is a better place because of you!! Miss you, RIP my amazing friend You will be missed by so many!! My heart is with everyone. You are our Angel watching over us!!
February 23 at 7:18 PM · I’m sorry that, I didnt get to say Good bye to you. I’m going to miss you and ur funny ways Richard Ruston!! R.I.P MAN. You were a very good person and friend to know! Peace dude!!!
Richard is going to be very missed he was wonderful person to get know also being around.
Feb 23 · · RIP Richard Ruston I am very sad to say with a heavy heart ❤but I know that the Lord is looking out for you and that you are in a much better place! You will be sadly missed by many people!
Richard is our angel, looking over and caring for all of us. May his memory be a blessing.
Yes I feel the same way may him Rest In Peace and until we meet in haven he was a good person and mentor to all of us we all going to miss him
My deepest sympathy to all of Richard’s family and friends. He will be miss by so much
I am sad to hear Richard passed. He was an extraordinary man . He will be missed. RIP Richard. We have lost an incredible man.
So sorry korymight be hurting but just remember he will always be there all you have to talk to him when down and your depression is your highest always hestill be there in your heart forever take care
Feb 24 · · We will miss you Richard Ruston ❤️… “ Richard was on the Board of Community Living for 25 years. He was a friend and mentor to many of us. He was my most solid supporter, calling me daily when the pandemic first hit just to see if I was okay. Richard was a well known and highly respected activist. He was the President of both People First of Ontario and People First of Canada as well as starting a local chapter of People First here in Windsor. Richard travelled both nationally and internationally to help encourage the formation of People First Chapters. He was also an avid advocate of the closure of institutions and was involved in The Freedom Tour, a documentary made in partnership with the National Film Board which was released in 2008. The film documented the trip of a group of advocates across the Prairies, where stories of people who survived the institutions were discovered and filmed. Richard participated as an advocate and an interviewer. In addition to all of his accomplishments Richard was an ardent supporter of respectful language and the right to self-determination. He believed strongly that people needed to be heard, that people need to be given information in plain/accessible language and that the words used to describe people mattered. At his heart, Richard was an incredibly kind man, who always had time for people who needed him, and all the patience in the world to listen. Community Living Windsor, the city of Windsor, the province of Ontario and our country has lost a great man. He will leave a huge void and will be missed. May we all learn from the tremendous example he set.” From Melodie Cook Executive Director Community Living Windsor”
This is so heartbreaking.I’m truly sorry for your loss. Working the past 30 years for Community Living I know he will be truly missed. He left a legacy for sure.
You are so right John, Richard will be missed but he fortunately inspired many people to continue the advocacy work to ensure that all people, regardless of ability, have the opportunity to live a good life!
Richard was a story teller and each story was a learning experience. The story teller has left us, but what he taught us will remain. I never see a little yellow bus without thinking of Richard. May his memory be a blessing.
Reina McDowell is with PF Ontario.
February 24 at 8:58 PM · To write a tribute for an amazing man is difficult to do, but here I am trying. As Richard Ruston has always taught me, to keep trying and to use my words to make a difference. As a significant member of the People First movement, serving as President on a local, provincial and national level with many accolades…..his life work and passion for advocacy has been instrumental in closing institutions, changing laws and perceptions in creating fair and equitable education, employment and housing to call home for people with disabilities. As my boss with Kory Earle, my work with People First of Ontario is one of the highlights of my career. I was often in awe to experience them command the room full of people with important titles being humbled as Richard and Kory articulated definitively the importance of having a meaningful place at the table and never wavered from fighting for citizenship afforded to all Canadians. Richard worked tirelessly, at times compromising his own health to vigorously advocate for people. Not only was he a good story teller, he was also an empathic listener to those that often shared painful personal stories. He had a gift to enable people to open up and give them the power to use their voice to combat injustices. With his leadership, we not only witnessed people winning the class action lawsuit from Ontario institutions but the government formally apologizing for the mistreatment and abuse of people with disabilities. And then there was the Richard, my friend. We spent many hours driving in rental cars, taking VIA Rail and staying in endless hotels….for almost 3 years we spent more time with each other than our own families. We spent these times talking about life, love and shared lots of laughter! One of the things I loved was listening to Richard talk about his home and life in Windsor. He absolutely was a champion of Windsor and was so proud to give me a tour of his community. I am so saddened and heartbroken by his death. It was an absolute privilege to be in his presence, grateful that he shared his wisdom and friendship with me and most importantly that he made me believe that superheroes exists in our world.
Kimberley WrightSuch a beautiful and honourable tribute! Wow! We all should be so fortunate to be able to make such meaningful contribution to our community and this world as Richard has. Fly high, Richard! Thank you for the difference you made and for leaving this world so much better than you found it!
RIP Richard Ruston I am very sad to say with a heavy heart but I know that the Lord is looking out for you and that you are in a much better place! You will be sadly missed by many people!
February 23 at 10:38 PM · Richard I learned so much from you when I was involved with People First of Ontario. I am sad to hear that you have taken your wonderful light into another room. Much love to you. A true leader and an amazing man.
Agreed! A mentor, gentleman and an legend!!!!!
David M. Bull
February 24 at 11:10 PM · It was with great sadness to learn of the passing of my dearest friend and brother. I’ve learned a lot from you Richard. You taught me patience and the value of humour in our lives. Your light will never fade from this earth. You will live on in the hearts and minds of many.You will be missed by many. You will be missed by me. I love you my brother. Rest in Peace.
February 23 at 9:03 PM · I lost a mentor and a dear friend today and my heart is broken. The world has lost a tremendous advocate for human rights. Over the years his scope of work was extensive reaching as far as the UN. Richard Ruston stands among the original founding members of People First– he is a legend. Richard this is for you….
“we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honour heroes after they’ve died…Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments.” R.J. Palacio
February 24 at 1:14 PM · The man in the middle is Richard Ruston who passed away on Monday. On the left is Patrick Worth (predeceased) and on the right is Peter Park. This picture was taken at a People First Conference in the 90’s. Richard looked up to Peter and Patrick and followed in their footsteps as a strong advocate and President of People First Ontario. I had the pleasure of knowing Richard while I was an advisor for the Ajax People First Group.
Melodie Cook Executive Director Community Living Windsor
I have to say that reading this is so comforting. In some ways this still isn’t real for me. Richard has been an incredible supporter and mentor. For me Richard will stand out as a passionate speaker who wasn’t afraid to challenge anyone on the use of respectful and accessible language and the rights of people to determine the course of their lives. During the last few years he was really looking at trying to cultivate the next generation of leaders which was a bit bittersweet, as I don’t think he ever felt his work was done. My best memories are the way he could just be with people and listen. It didn’t matter how you communicated, Richard listened to understand, and people felt safe opening up to him. I loved to watch him; the kindness, respect and care he had with people. He was a killer tease with me and loved that I was a couple of years older so he could razz me when I reached a milestone. He was also my GPS for the city of Windsor. I have an incredibly poor sense of direction but I knew my way to his place, and that was enough to get me anywhere. Richard also had my phone number and called regularly. Sometimes on purpose, and one Christmas Day by accident. He got quite a kick out of that. After Dom called me Tuesday morning to let me know he had passed, I had a virtual session to do with some people we support on COVID and the importance of vaccinations. I had spent hours finding pictures that would help me in my explanations. I had a wonderful doctor from the local hospital who had agreed to present with me. For a minute I almost postponed it, but I knew this would have been so important to Richard. I could just hear him saying “suck it up and do it. People need to have information on COVID and the vaccine in a way they can understand”. He was always right about stuff like that.Ironically Richard was slated to leave our Board next year in June. He was sad about this but excited that his fiancé, Cathy was applying to be on the board this June and that he would have a year to mentor her.
Dom, I don’t even know what to say. Just know that I am here for whatever you need. Richard has left a deep void and his loss will be hard for so many people we support who looked up to him, just as I did.
What an emotional time, he certainly has a special place in our hearts 💕
He was a Hero and all of us are thankful that he was part of our life!
Now it’s more then ever important to carry on his work!
If you all need anything, please know I’m here and you can reach out anytime
Yesterday morning I learned of the death of Richard Ruston. I couldn’t get my head and heart around this sad news and now able to write. I have known Richard since the 1990’s. Richard was a strong and caring leader in the People First movement and a strong activist for the closing of institutions. Around 1996 he met my brother Rob,another survivor. After their meeting; any time Richard and I would see each other he would always ask about Rob and restate his commitment he made to Rob by advocating for the closure of institutions. Richard understood his responsibility of leadership for speaking up for people who are not able to speak in ways that other people will listen. He understood that People First is not only for those who are able to clearly speak up; but for everyone. The last time I saw Richard was in Nov. 2019. He was part of a Gathering of Survivors of Institutions through the Uncovering the People’s History Project. His kindness and compassion was demonstrated when a survivor was sharing her story about her life in the institution, she started to have a very hard time and started to cry; Richard got up, grabbed a box of Kleenex stood beside her; quietly and strongly. It was the most powerful way to demonstrate how to be supportive, how to share the pain and what it means to ‘walk with people’. A lesson for all of us. I am grateful for having met him.