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Supporting soldiers for a quarter century

Oration honouring Gladys Osmond
Tuesday, May 27, 3 p.m.

Since reaching the age of 70, Gladys Osmond makes it a point to do at least one new and different activity each year. Motorcycling, bowling and snowmobiling are some of her later life achievements, but not long ago, she was arrested. Cuffed and thrust in the back seat of a police car, she was taken in for mug shots and fingerprinting. She even spent a short time behind bars. No, Vice-Chancellor, Gladys Osmond is not a hardened criminal, quite the contrary. A local police officer arranged the “arrest” knowing that it would be a novel experience for Mrs. Osmond. Events such as this provide her with stories to tell and share with others. Mostly, she shares her stories through letter writing. Gladys Osmond is a prolific letter writer.

Letter writers have a remarkable place in human history. Benjamin Franklin was a prolific letter writer. Through his many letters to friends and colleagues, Franklin determined the predominant weather patterns in what is now the northeast United States. During Newfoundland’s Commission of Government, Sir John and Lady Hope Simpson recorded one of the more complete histories of the period through their regular correspondence with family.

Early Christians successfully used letters to communicate with and influence people whom they were unable to meet face-to-face. The Apostle Paul, one of the earliest Christian missionaries, provides a notable example. As many as 14 of the 27 books of the New Testament are attributed to letters from Paul. Perhaps it was Paul who inspired Gladys Osmond.

When young, she dreamed of helping people by travelling the world as a missionary. Through her work with the Salvation Army and assignments to various communities in rural Newfoundland, she fulfilled much of that dream. Gladys Osmond taught in several one-room school houses, where she was often the sole teacher for students ranging from kindergarten to high school. Years later, after the death of her beloved husband, Harry Osmond, Gladys accepted a missionary assignment in downtown Toronto. While there, she started corresponding with a young Canadian soldier who was stationed in Bosnia.

Since that first letter, Gladys Osmond has persevered in supporting our soldiers for a quarter century. From her retirement cottage in Springdale, she writes about “home” in as many as 1,000 letters per month to our troops stationed abroad. For most of those 25 years, her letters were hand written. More recently, a computer replaced some of her pens, and e-mail has lowered her personal expenditures on paper and postage stamps. Although occasional supplies were donated and other members of Osmond’s “Granny Brigade” have helped her support the troops through letters and prayer, Gladys Osmond personally provides the driving force and resources behind her mission to remember soldiers and bring them simple words from home. In speaking about the importance of Mrs. Osmond’s work, General Rick Hillier noted: “…connection to home and a ‘normal’ life, particularly in times of stress, violence and death, cannot be overestimated in value.”

Her receiving the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award and the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service let others know the importance of her work to our troops. Gladys Osmond does not need or seek these accolades. She does, however, value the letters and mementos that she receives from soldiers. A collection of her letters from soldiers will soon be published. Entitled: Dear Gladys: Letters From Over There, her book may very well become the textbook to help others understand the soldier’s psyche in times of armed conflict.

The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Colossians: “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit.” Gladys Osmond may not have travelled the world in body, but her childhood dream of global missionary work has been fulfilled, like that of Paul, through the spirit of her letters. Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of this humanitarian who through her pen has consistently demonstrated her caring for the well-being of others, I present Gladys Osmond for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.

Dr. Donald McKay
University orator