January 25, 1963-February 6, 2019
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Community builder, international affairs and development expert, educator, Member of Parliament (2006-2015)
Dewar attended the Gow School (for learning differences) in upstate New York for the last 3 years of high school. More than a 5 hour drive from Ottawa, he was a long way from home, but he describes his time at Gow as a “positive experience.” After high school, he studied at Carleton University in Ottawa and Queen’s University in Kingston. (Source: Gorham)
Life with dyslexia
Dewar spoke publicly about his dyslexia in a 2011 interview with Canadian Press, saying, “It’s not all of me. It’s part of me…” and it’s not all bad either:
“I never saw this as something that held me back. In a sense, it kind of allowed me to go further ahead…it’s allowed me to really take things on” (Source: Canadian Press).
He says that dyslexia has created some challenges in his life, including difficulty learning French (a prerequisite for politicians in Canada but something that isn’t easy for most dyslexics).
Mostly however, Dewar focuses on the positive: he processes information differently, so he’s been able to “make associations others don’t see” (Source: Canadian Press). He’s always had to work harder than others, and as an MP, he gained a reputation for having a strong work ethic and for digging deeply into his files.
More recently, in a 2018 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Dewar says that as a child he sometimes felt isolated, but this helped him develop the skills that he is respected for:
“It drove home how crucial it was to treat everyone with respect and dismiss the real and imagined hierarchies between people.”
As an MP, he says he wanted to hear from everyone because he remembered what it was like to feel dismissed:
“When you are someone on the outside looking in, you learn what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence. It engenders a different kind of respect for other people. You don’t see every occasion as just an opportunity for yourself. It’s about respecting the people around you because you want that respect as well.”
Dewar says he gives himself ample time to read and write, breaks text into small chunks, reviews, rewrites, and re-reads until it makes sense.
Why this person is “great”
Dewar works to make the world a better place for the most vulnerable people. He was a very popular Member of Parliament serving in Ottawa Centre for 3 terms, and continues to be respected by people across the political spectrum. His message is: “If we are loving, hopeful and optimistic, we can and will change the world.”
At Queen’s University, where he studied teaching, he won the A. Lorne Cassidy award for his work with special needs kids. As a teacher, he shared his own journey with dyslexia to help students with learning disabilities.
There are countless stories of how he’s supported and mentored people. [And likely there are many untold stories too. Without knowing it, he’s a role model to many in the dyslexic community in Canada. It’s a great confidence builder to find out that your well-respected MP is also dyslexic!]
In February 2018, Dewar was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. After his cancer diagnosis, he established a charity called Youth Action Now, a group of aware and engaged young people dedicated to change-making. Sadly, he died in February 2019 but his legacy carries on.
Dewar’s family is well known and loved in Ottawa. His mother, Marion Dewar, was the mayor of Ottawa from 1978–1985. He is married to teacher Julia Sneyd and they have two sons, Nathaniel and Jordan.
Also. He is one of a select few Canadian politicians with a finger puppet made in his honour.
In 2014, his “political facepalm went viral and captured the nation’s frustration.