By Roger Smith
Dudleigh Coyle likes to keep a low profile as he goes about his volunteer work at the Glendale rink and at Glebe-St. James United Church. But there was no hiding from the limelight on February 3 when the 72-year-old Glebe resident was presented in an online ceremony with one of Ontario’s most prestigious awards for volunteers.
“I was pleased, tickled pink,” said Coyle. “It’s a very nice honour.”
Coyle was one of 15 individuals and eight groups who won this year’s June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism. It was set up in honour of the late June Callwood, the journalist and activist who died in 2007.
“For many Canadians, hockey is a religion,” the award committee wrote in his citation. “This is an excellent analogy for Dudleigh Coyle, as rink and church have been his pillars for more than four decades of volunteer work.”
After moving to Ottawa in 1985, Coyle joined Glebe-St. James where he has served in key roles from financing and fundraising (including for the church’s new digital organ) to cub scouts and building maintenance. He is well-known for the home-cooked chilli dinners that he delivers to those in need around the neighbourhood, accepting donations for those who can afford it and offering them free to those who can’t.
Former church treasurer Ian McKercher likens Coyle to a sparkplug. “A sparkplug is small, less obvious than the engine or wheels, but the car will not run without it,” he says. “Glebe-St. James would not run without Dudleigh.”
Coyle also signed up to help run the rink at Glebe Memorial Park. In 1988, he became Chief Rink Rat or, as he describes himself, “the adult in charge.” He organized flooding crews and snowplows to clear the ice, dealt with city grants, recruited paid students and volunteer adults to supervise and orchestrated the annual neighbourhood rink party. It was not unusual to see Coyle in his signature orange toque, sweeping out the change shack, emptying garbage or walking through the neighbourhood with a load of shovels just purchased at the hardware store.
“Dudleigh’s management and coordination of volunteers has ensured the rink’s survival,” says Randy Freda, a long-time volunteer flooder. “It has allowed many kids, young and old, to enjoy skating and hockey.”
Beyond rink and church, Coyle served on the board of the Glebe Report, organized a seniors’ bridge group and often helps neighbours with taxes and finances.
“Creative play” is what he calls it, says his wife Barb. “He simply enjoys helping people, it’s his way of having fun.”
But the fun almost stopped just before Christmas in 2018 when Coyle was hit with a life-threatening case of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. His arms and legs were paralyzed. But Coyle wasn’t done yet. As he began to rally, still unable to type, he started dictating emails from his bed to make sure things were running smoothly at the rink and church. After four weeks of rehab, he learned to walk again, and he’s hardly slowed down since.
Characteristically shying away from credit, Coyle claims the core group of volunteers he has built now basically runs the rink on their own. Still, he has no plans to give up his roles as the elder statesman at Glendale and the sparkplug at his church because he thrives on the energy he gets from helping others.
“It drives me, it’s how I’m wired,” he says. “As long as I still get back more energy than I give, I will keep doing it.”
Roger Smith is a journalist, copy editor of the Glebe Report and an avid user of the Glendale rink.