Criticism keeps Don Cherry from accepting honorary degree

Hockey legend Don Cherry holds a bobble-head doll in his likeness after chatting with the Calgary Sun's Ian Busby in Calgary on Friday February 18, 2011.



TORONTO - Concerned controversy may take away from "a special day," Don Cherry has declined an honorary degree from the Royal Military College.

"I can't accept the degree and I won't attend the convocation," Cherry said in an interview Friday about the Nov. 17 ceremony in Kingston, Ont. "I am sad because I was really looking forward to spending time with the 800 cadets."

It is because of French Professor Catherine Lord's complaints that the legendary hockey coach and commentator won't be there.

"On many occasions he publicly expressed his contempt for many groups of the Canadian population, notably for the French-speaking Canadians, for the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and for the immigrants," Lord wrote in an open letter.

"What message will RMC send, in celebrating Don Cherry, to the students coming from these groups? And what will the Canadian people remember from RMC, as a serious and prestigious institution?"

As well, the RMC faculty board passed a resolution of "dissatisfaction" about the 77-year-old receiving the degree.

The institution, however, stands behind its decision to grant Cherry the degree.

"For more than two decades, Don Cherry has been a stalwart public supporter of the members of the Canadian Forces and their families," said spokesman Capt. Cynthia Kent.

"Through his public appearances, he has continually drawn attention to the work and sacrifices of Canadian Forces members, along with the contributions of military families. In Canada and overseas, he has visited Canadian Forces personnel to boost their morale with both his entertaining personality and his heartfelt appreciation for their sacrifice."

Kent also noted Cherry's charity work, including organ donor awareness his paediatric and hospice care facility for children, the Darling Home for Kids
Cherry is from Kingtson and has a long history with the college. His mother worked there, as did his grandfather, Richard Palamountain, who then enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force where he fought and was wounded at Vimy Ridge in 1917.

Palamountain returned back to the college as an employee following the war for 17 years until his death.

Cherry also has a long resume of honorary awards from Canada's military and men and women in uniform. He received the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service, and was made an honorary lifetime member of the Royal Canadian Legion, an honorary member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and an honorary membership in the Ontario Association of Police.

He said he was very proud to be bestowed this latest honorary degree but in light of the letter and public spectacle, he did not want to distract attention from the two others who were also honoured - the late RMC teacher Brig.-Gen. John (Jack) Cadieux and military veteran Lt.-Col. John Desmond Gibson.

"I wouldn't want anything to take that moment away from those families," Cherry said. "The day should be a positive."

Cherry visited the Quebec City Royal 22e Regiment, nicknamed the Van Doos, in Afghanistan last Christmas.

"All I know is I went to Afghanistan to spend last Christmas with the Van Doos and they didn't seem to mind me," joked Cherry. "They treated me so well and I have to tell you I was sure proud of them."

With the help of the regiment, he fired an artillery shell on which he wrote "To the Taliban: Bon Chance" to which he later joked to the troops, "I think I spelled it wrong (it should have been 'bonne') but they got the idea."

Being with the Van Doos "was by far the greatest thing I have ever done in my life and the greatest thing I will ever do," he added.

However he did point one thing missing from the trip.

"When I was in Afghanistan in all the bases I visited I didn't see Catherine Lord there anywhere," Cherry said.

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