Alberta Cancer Foundation

The legacy of Devon Canada's David Stokes

Devon Canada Corporation’s mission, vision and values are clear when you go to the company’s website: Hire the right people, always do the right thing, deliver results, be a team player and be a good neighbour. For many companies talk is cheap but a quick visit to Devon’s head office, in downtown Calgary, is enough to prove these guys (and gals) actually put their core beliefs into action – and not just when it comes to increasing share prices. “Sure we’re all here to work,” Vern Black says, Devon’s Grande Prairie district production manager. But back in 2008, when his fellow co-worker and friend David Stokes was diagnosed with cancer, Black’s initial reaction was, “What can we do to help?”

IN MEMORY: Everyone at Devon Canada Corporation was touched by the loss of Dave. A studentship keeps his memory alive.

“I remember that day when he walked into my office and sat down like he often did,” Black says. “This time, it was to deliver the news that he had a brain tumour. Dave had a good understanding of the journey ahead of him and, as a friend and co-worker, I needed to help him,” he says.

Stokes, who was a production engineer at Devon, left a positive impact on those he came in contact with, establishing solid friendships with Black and others throughout his career. One of them was co-worker Lloyd Murray. “My memories of Dave, outside of the office, include spending time together in the arenas watching our boys play hockey, our daily bike ride together from work to home where we would chat about work, solve the world’s problems and most importantly, the race up 10th Street N.W. with Dave pushing the pace,” says Murray. Both Murray and Black looked for ways to counter that helpless feeling people get when someone they care about is diagnosed with cancer.

Black initialized a “Shave for Dave” campaign, giving friends and co-workers the option to sponsor him or join him in getting donations to shave his head. “When we finished this event, I was absolutely blown away,” he says. “I thought it would be sweat on my brow to raise $10,000, and we finished up by raising $80,000.” He sounds proud of the accomplishment, but still sad when he talks about his old friend David Stokes.

With such a large sum came possibilities for how to direct the funds. Black was able to help Stokes research the various options. “We explored a lot of ideas and talked about a lot of initiatives,” Black says. In 2009, the David C. Stokes Summer Studentship in Brain Tumour Research was established. “Through the generosity of family, friends and co-workers of David Stokes, the studentship will provide support for an undergraduate student who has identified brain tumours as their area of cancer research,” says Marianne Bernardino, senior development officer with the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

“Dave advocated the pursuit of education and he excelled at being a mentor,” Murray says. “In keeping with this philosophy, he wanted to see this money assist aspiring cancer researchers so they could determine if brain tumour research fit their interest as a possible career path.”

In order to endow the Stokes’s Summer Studentship at the $125,000 level, Stokes’s friends needed an additional $40,000. This year, his colleagues and friends at Devon stepped up again by participating in the Banff-Jasper Relay and the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Alberta Cancer Foundation. “I believe Dave would think it’s really fitting that I am on my bike, helping to establish a legacy for him,” fellow bike commuter Murray says. They raised $45,491.94, ensuring an annual grant in perpetuity.

“For me, this has been a remarkable example of what can be done when people unite for a cause,” Black says, deflecting the credit for the undertaking. “This was something Dave started and we had the honour of finishing.”

David Stokes passed away in 2010. Many people had the good fortune of knowing him as a friend, co-worker, mentor, fellow hockey dad or bike commuter and they all miss him.