By Dorothy Dobbie
This month, on April 26, another respected figure on the Winnipeg scene is leaving after 24 years of stalwart service. Rick Frost, the CEO of The Winnipeg Foundation, is retiring.
It seems it is a season for the changing of the guard in Winnipeg as many of our long-time leaders have been stepping down: Annitta Stenning from Cancer Care, Claudette LeClerc from the Manitoba Museum, Larry McIntosh from Peak of the Market, and our own dear Trudy Schroeder from the WSO.
Rick deserves a rest. He has been working at one thing and another since he was 14 years old. Working hard and making the best of life runs in the family, though. His Grandad, Dick Frost, was sent to the Hamilton area from England and indentured to a farm when he was just 12. It was years of hard labour, but when he regained his freedom, he got a farm and then was hit by the Depression. But he kept on working, eventually getting a job as a driller in a quarry.
His son, Rick’s Dad, started out as a milkman, a good steady job back then. His career was abruptly ended by a modern convenience. “The invention of the three-quart jug pretty well ended the milk delivery business overnight,” said Rick. Fortunately, his Dad had managed to buy a fish and chips shop the year before, so Rick spent a lot of his young years peeling potatoes to help the family business. Rick grew up in the culture of small business.
Dogged and determined, Rick was the first of his family to go to University, starting with McMaster and then on to Queen’s where he took a degree in public service. Why public service? The most important man he knew was the mayor of his town. Rick went to the same church with him and a lot of other public service folks, so this seemed a reasonable road to success.
His first job was as an assistant clerk in the City of Burlington. Then he was promoted to Chief Administrative Officer for the rural municipality of Peel. He worked there from 1978 to 1989 and made a good name for himself, so much so that he was recruited by Bill Norrie to come to Winnipeg to become Chief Commissioner for the City. Rick served us well in that capacity until 1997.
Meanwhile Rick had started a family. He married a girl who moved to Dundas in Grade 5. Their life together seemed preordained as they were cast as husband and wife in the grade 5 school play – you can’t fight fate! They had three children. One son passed away from cancer 15 years ago. The remaining son is a power engineer, and his daughter is a lawyer, legal council for Red River College. They have three granddaughters.
In 1997, Rick was recruited to take over the role of CEO of the historic Winnipeg Foundation, Canada’s first community foundation. At the time, its funds were valued at about $150 million (about $234 million in today’s dollars) and under Rick’s leadership, this has grown to $1.4 billion in 2021. Back in his starting year, support for local causes totalled about $5 million in grants. Last year, our sesquicentennial as a province, the Winnipeg Foundation supported community initiatives to the tune of $73 million.
The community foundation was the brainchild of a city banker, William Forbes Alloway, with a gift of $100,000 back in 1921, 100 years ago. The second gift was three gold coins worth about $15, but this set the stage for the philosophy that no gift is too small. Nor is any gift too large. In 2001, the Moffat family made a gift of $100 million, which was then the largest gift to a community foundation in Canadian history. They topped that up with another $50 million in 2018. These significant gifts have helped to keep the Winnipeg Foundation at the head of the community foundation class, just below the assets of its next largest competitor, the Vancouver Foundation.
As for Rick, how did his training in public service align with running a charitable foundation? It was perfect. “The best parts of public service are wrapped up in the Winnipeg foundation,” says Rick. “We can make plans and basically stick to them, where in civic administration things are always changing.”
The Foundation was like a candy land to Rick. There were so many good things you could do – you had to choose, but gaining experience taught him that, “Once you start to learn how the system works, you can support good things in the city and find out how to make them happen. It is a generous community.”
His foresight and good work have been well recognized. Last year he was awarded an Order of Manitoba and he has honorary doctorates from both the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. But he is most proud of the many ways the Foundation has made a difference to the community. Not every project turns out perfectly, but they all add up to a net gain for the people of this city, he says. Nor is the role of the Foundation to fund charitable works alone. The Foundation’s mandate is to improve life in Winnipeg, including beautification and livability.
He is also proud of the role of his adopted province in developing more community foundations. “There are 191 community foundations in Canada”, Rick says. “And 56 of them are in Manitoba.” He has been working with the various small community foundations around the province to help them manage and grow their funds through a program called Endow Manitoba that is staffed through the Winnipeg Foundation offices.
And in case we get the idea that it is only big money that rolls into the Foundation. Rick says that they still cherish and value the many thousands of small gifts they receive each year from people in all walks of life. “We open an average of three new funds a week,” he says. In total, the Foundation manages 4,300 funds, among them many endowment and other funds for arts organizations such as the RWB and the WSO.
Now Rick looks forward to time at the lake and time to think about things he loves, such as history. It is no accident that the Foundation has a wonderful track record of providing history scholarships; the largest is $100,000 over three years available through both the U of W and the U of M – this in addition to over a dozen significant other history scholarships.
As for the future of the Foundation, Rick says it will be in good hands with the incoming CEO, Sky Bridges, at the head. He comes to the job with a stellar record in management as the COO of APTN Television Network responsible for daily operations of the network and co-ordinating strategic planning. He has a diploma in Business Administration and an Advanced Diploma in International Business among other credits.
Congratulations to both Rick and Sky as we ease into the next generation of leadership in our town.