The gentleman I’m honoured to introduce to you this evening, on behalf of the Brickenden Awards Committee, is known to everyone who attends almost any arts event in London! And I can tell you that he is loved by everyone. The accolades I’ve heard have been unanimously glowing in praise of his contributions to the arts and also of his delightful personality.
I’ve known Wally Duffield since the early ’70s. Back then Nonie Jeffery and Barbara Ivey held a meeting at Barbara’s house with plans to form a support group of volunteers for Theatre London. Wally and his friends Peter Lynch and Noreen de Shane, as well as myself and many others, became part of the newly formed support organization, the Theatre London Association or TLA, which later became the Grand Theatre Association.
I have so many warm memories—of working at fund-raising bingos for the theatre; organizing the opening night party, before there was a bar at the Grand, so that we had to obtain a liquor licence for that night and set up a bar in the lobby; and going on bus trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto and elsewhere to see shows. Wally, Peter and Noreen were there—always full of fun, and totally dedicated to supporting live theatre.
Since then I’ve run into Wally everywhere there is a performance of any kind—usually he’s ushering or volunteering in some way: at the Grand, at the Palace, for Orchestra London, for the Fringe Festival, at Aeolian Hall—you name it, he’s there. He told me just last Friday, regarding the Aeolian, “I LOVE it! I do a lot! There’s so much variety—I worked 17 of 20 shows last August and they were all so different!”
Wally is always cheery and so very, very kind!
Wally came to London in 1957 to work in human resources at Emco. He had served in the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II. When he moved here, he had been teaching at the University of Windsor.
“As a teenager, Wally was involved in high school theatrical productions and always had a passion for live theatre. Later he had volunteered with summer theatre in Niagara Falls and Peterborough.” (From an article by Johnny Fansher in The Londoner, August 3, 2005.)
Unfortunately, neither of Wally’s friends Noreen de Shane nor Peter Lynch are able to be here this evening, but both have provided me with some interesting stories about Wally!
Noreen has known Wally since 1958, when they were both involved with the then London Little Theatre. She has fond memories of Wally working on sets and scenery in what he said was a “rum-soaked” naval sweatshirt, with “Nonsuch” on the front, which he had worn in World War II!
Peter Lynch has known Wally since 1960. Peter helped to build scenery for the 1960 LLT production of Born Yesterday, and was given a small part for a waiter/bellhop. Wally acted in that production, and also the same year in Carousel, and Dark at the Top of the Stairs, in which, Peter told me, Wally played Beryl Ivey’s husband! [Patricia showed a program for Born Yesterday which Peter had lent to her for the ceremony. Among the familiar names in the cast list, along with Wally’s, are Eleanor Ender, Alec Richmond, and Eddie Escaf, people who remained active in the London arts scene.]
In talking with some of those who have known Wally for many years, the word “bingo” has come up more than once. As I mentioned, I remember working at bingos in support of Theatre London and later when its name changed to The Grand Theatre in the mid-1980s. Peter Lynch told me that those bingos were held for 27 years—the last one in March last year. Wally has also helped with fundraising bingos for London Community Players.
Not only has Wally acted, ushered, taken tickets, stuffed envelopes, and helped behind the scenes, but he is also seen on the subscription or donor lists of names for more than one arts organization.
Nonie Jeffery’s comment, when I mentioned to her the recipient of this year’s Chris Doty Award, was “no-one deserves it more than Wally!”
John Gerry, Artistic Director for Fountainhead Theatre Productions, said, when I mentioned this year’s Chris Doty Award recipient, “Wally is one of the largest supporters of the arts, be it performing, the orchestra—Wally’s there, and he’s so b—-y positive… we all need an insulin injection!”
John added, “Wally has been incredibly supportive on a voluntary basis [of everything I’ve ever done].”
[Grant Doty presented the award to Wally with the following tributes.]
First, from Susan Ferley, Artistic Director, The Grand Theatre:
“I adore Wally Duffield. He is a treasure. He has been a volunteer at The Grand Theatre for 50 years—first onstage as an actor with London Little Theatre, and now recognized by countless theatre patrons because he welcomes them to The Grand as he takes their tickets. Over the years he has been a light walker for lighting designers, assisted with the auction and gala, served guests at our Backstage Bash and worked for years at bingos that raised $500,000 for the theatre. We couldn’t ask for more. He brings such joy and enthusiasm to all he does. And not just at The Grand. I love the fact that whatever cultural event I attend, more often than not I am welcomed by Wally and I feel at home.”
From Kathy Navackas, Producer, London Fringe Festival:
“One of the very first people to join the Fringe Troupers was Wally. Everyone in the Fringe office is now familiar with his unique ability to volunteer and see almost every show, every year. We anticipate his coming into the office with a typed sheet – yes, typed – in red and black. One colour is for his availability for shifts, the other for the shows that he’s going to see. And we dare not mess it up! Otherwise he’ll miss something.
“The Fringe cannot imagine running any of our venues without your smiling face at the door, taking tickets and talking to all of the patrons.
“Your constant passion and enthusiasm for all of the arts, and especially for local theatre, is unmatched. Wally, we all say ‘thank you.’ And we can’t wait to see your schedule this year!”
From Laura Wall, a past manager from the London International Children’s Festival (another of Wally’s volunteer gigs):
“I first met Wally Duffield when he volunteered for the London International Children’s Festival. His big grin and enthusiasm were perfect for the role of house manager for the festival’s indoor headliner shows. Performers and audience alike were warmly welcomed to the venue and I can remember at least one occasion when Wally was pulled on stage with several large and very unruly characters. He played along perfectly, enjoying his moment of stardom, and then was back to his station as volunteer without missing a beat. When it came time to recruit volunteers for the London Fringe Theatre Festival, I knew we needed Wally!”
And last, but not least, from Clark Bryan, President and CEO, The Aeolian Performing Arts Centre, Wally’s most recent volunteer venue:
“Wally Duffield has been the ‘white knight’ for volunteer leadership and role modelling at the Aeolian. His experience has taught us all so many things which help us to provide the best customer service we can. Wally is recognized as a pillar in the London Arts Community and it is a great honour that he chooses to volunteer at the Aeolian. Volunteers are often the first experience a patron has with the management of an arts organization. They are the flagship and provide much of the atmosphere and experience. This can often make a difference as to whether patrons return to a venue or an organization. With Wally greeting Aeolian’s patrons, I feel confident that they feel welcomed and directed with warmth and sincerity.”
[Grant closed with “Wally Duffield, volunteer extraordinaire—and he’s all of 87 years young!”]