Good on You

Rick Tobias and I did a lot of commiserating over drinks and a shared order of fries. We met in the same restaurant mostly, even at the same table- the one tucked in the corner to the right of the door. “Well this is a treat” he would say, as he settled into the window seat. It was common for me to lay out my current challenges, asking for any wisdom he might offer. Rick would always ask great questions, listen well, and pepper our time with stories. I would inevitably leave our time feeling poured into, with a plan to address the challenges, and almost always with a new joke. Rick would later follow-up to check in about how the plan was going. If I managed to take a step, however small, he would say, “Good on you.”

Rick died today after a long journey with cancer. I don’t know how to process his departure, though he was preparing for it and we understood was going to come all too soon. Because of Covid and his compromised immune system, we could no longer meet at our usual spot. Instead we began to meet outdoors, most often on my back deck or in his backyard under the carport. It became common for me to return home from work to find Dion and Rick at the end of the driveway, a party that I would happily crash. It is hard to believe I won’t see Rick sitting in a chair on the grass with a scotch in his hand anymore. All I can think is that I want to give him a hug and say, “Good on you.”

Good on you Rick for being a voice of justice. You dared to cry out into the wilderness and boldly challenged people to better understand poverty and love everyone whatever their circumstances. You clothed yourself with compassion and grace. 

Good on you Rick for, even in your retirement, intentionally calling our mutual friend and Dale community member multiple times a week. Your friendship meant so much to him. I called him today on your behalf. I had to tell him the news of your death and we wept bitterly together. He repeatedly said, “Rick was so good to me. Jesus, please tell Rick right now that Erinn and I will always love him”.  

Good on you Rick for being the Coordinator of Yonge Street Mission’s Evergreen Centre before becoming the Mission’s CEO. Many of the things I now know about fundraising I learned from you, as you were one of the best. I know leaving your role at YSM was not easy, but you did it well. Many can learn from your example of supporting your successor. 

Good on you Rick for being transparent about your own struggles and suffering. We could talk about the complexities of life and you never tried to fix it all with clichés. It felt safe to tell you about my mistakes because you were also willing to share your own. Thank you for all the reminders to try and keep our heads on straight, by seeking out community and accountability. 

Good on you Rick for always lighting up when you talked about Charis, your children and grandchildren. You loved your daughters by marriage as your own. Your family is what grounded you and made you beam with pride.

Good on you Rick for being such a good friend to so many people. You were proof that love grows when you share it. That you chose to be my close friend and mentor will always remain an honour. Thank you for the countless texts between visits. Your emoji game was strong, often using 10+ in a row. Your words of encouragement I will carry in my heart- you believed in me more than I often believe in myself.

You very rarely took a compliment Rick, always redirecting the conversation to something else. Humble is a word I would use to describe you. Part of me imagines you cringing at all the talk of you in the wake of your death. I hope though that you can somehow miraculously receive the enormous outpouring of love, hopefully with a beverage in hand and your own order of fries. 

Mentorship and Friendship Intertwined

Though we were both living in Toronto, I met Rick Tobias in the 90’s as a young and very new street ministry worker in Calgary at a conference he helped birth. I remember seeing him surrounded by people eager to connect. So many would take note when he entered any room. I attended a workshop that he helped lead, the content of which had me spinning for days. All these years later it remains amazing to me that I can now count Rick a dear friend.

In addition to being a friend, I also consider Rick a mentor. Though we’ve never had a formal mentorship plan, he has certainly functioned as an experienced and trusted advisor. When I took the scary plunge into my current role at The Dale, Rick offered me advice that has stuck with me and I still tell people about. Over the years I have taken challenges to him that I couldn’t see a way to overcome, and together we would formulate a plan for next steps.

Over the years I have been greatly influenced by Rick’s commitment to both compassion and justice. He talks a lot about how there are 2,000 texts in the Bible that address poverty and “the poor”, and how the weight of this Scriptural evidence strongly favours the people who are poor. The vast majority of these texts talk about the wider social issues that contribute to the creation of poverty. He invites people to see that compassion (though good) is not enough- we must move to justice.

Rick has a lot to teach about this move to justice and being compassionate caregivers. As a mentor, Rick encourages and enables my own development. He helps me focus by setting goals and giving feedback. My confidence has grown because he always gently and directly speaks of the strengths he identifies in me. He listens. He does all of these things as a friend too. When crisis struck last August, he and his wife Charis (who I also hold in very high regard) took the time to be available even while enroute back from their holiday. I trust Rick, which I know is a core element of any relationship.

After a recent social visit with Rick, I commented that I should have been taking notes throughout our conversation. He has a way of dropping truth bombs in the middle of a great story. I also love hearing about his motorcycle days, his visits to New Brunswick, his beloved family, and his many years as CEO of Yonge Street Mission. That he is my friend AND mentor is a gift. At the end of our visits I have usually laughed and cried. Sometimes I have a new joke to share. Always, I feel grateful for the time.