Suiting Up for Jack
I met Chris Dobbin about a year ago at an EO Atlantic Canada meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the weeks following, Chris and I exchanged e-mails about various topics. When a month passed without hearing from him, I fired a quick e-mail to follow up.
His reply: “Todd … sorry I have been out of touch. I doubt you heard. Three weeks ago, our 5-year-old son passed away.” I didn’t know Chris very well, but I felt compelled to let him know I was praying for him, and that if he ever needed someone to talk to, I would be there. His reply: “I can meet you at Starbucks in an hour.”
That afternoon, I listened to Chris’s story while fighting back tears. Jack, the oldest of three children (Chris’s wife was eight-months pregnant with their fourth child), was the last one in the family to get the flu that was going around. While checking in on Jack overnight, Chris noticed that his breathing had become labored. Before long, Chris was alarmed enough to call 911. By the time paramedics arrived, Jack had gone into a coma in Chris’s arms. Three days later, Jack Dobbin passed away.
Over the coming weeks, I sent Chris the odd note to let him know that I was thinking of him, but I mainly tried to give my new friend space and time to heal and grieve. Around that time, I decided I was going to embark on a fundraiser to raise money for pediatric cancer charities. Specifically, I would swim from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island to raise funds. I had a lot to do to prepare, so I started by informing my friends and colleagues.
As I sat at my desk preparing an e-mail to friends and family asking for donations, I came across Chris’s e-mail address. You can imagine the alarm going off in my head telling me that under no circumstances should I ask a man who just lost his son to donate money to the cause. But something came over me; something larger and more powerful than logic or reason. Every ounce of my heart told me that Chris had to know about this. So, with trepidation, I included him on the e-mail and hit send.
My heart skipped a beat 30 minutes later when I saw Chris’s response in my Inbox. His reply: “Todd. As you can imagine, that was very hard for me to read. Can I swim with you?” I met Chris at the pool the next night. He had on surfer shorts, and didn’t exactly look like Michael Phelps (I can say that because we’re old friends now). It was April. In four months, we were going to swim 15 kilometers across the ocean.
Chris had neglected to tell me that he didn’t know how to swim.
We practiced, strategized and prepared for the big event. At 6 a.m. on 21 August—six months after losing his oldest son—Chris, myself and our friend, Peter McCormick, set out from Confederation Bridge to cross the Northumberland Strait. United for a cause, we called ourselves “Three Men in Suits.” Ten minutes into the swim, Chris got severely seasick. Seven hours later, and after throwing up almost 40 times, Chris walked onto land in Borden, Prince Edward Island.
On an empty stomach and with a heavy heart, Chris had made it. He swam for Jack and the aptly named Jack in the Clouds Foundation, which helps children combat various illnesses. Chris never complained. He never made it about himself. He never doubted. On our way home, we were silent, knowing that what we did transcended our friendship. We came together to support an important cause, to remember someone so loved, and left as changed people.
Todd McDonald is the CEO of Energy Atlantica. E-mail Todd at