OMAH Tribute – Dr. Richard (Dick) Johnston

By Mary Ann Grant, OMAH History Committee

There are those in our community who make a huge difference and  who enhance the lives of others by their actions and contributions; Dr. Richard (Dick) Johnston is one of those people.

Dick Johnston has done this through his stalwart support and promotion for the Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH), his commitment to respect and honour our military veterans, and as a well-respected obstetrician and gynecologist. Dick has a strong sense of social justice and volunteerism. The proof of that is in the lasting contributions that he has made to our community over the years.

To many, Dick needs no introduction.

Proud of his heritage and passionate about our history and preserving it

We are fortunate that Dick and his wife Wendy made Orillia their home in 1974, when he finished his speciality in Obstetrics and Gynecology at McMaster University.

Dick is proud of his strong connection to our area. His great-grandfather Craw came to Hillsdale in 1859 as a student Presbyterian minister from Glasgow, Scotland. He became the permanent minister, and they raised six children (four boys and two girls) there. His grandmother, Elizabeth Craw published a family diary that sheds light on life in Hillsdale from 1859 to 1899. The Craw manse is still there, just south of Hillsdale across from the cemetery.

Like his grandmother, Dick is passionate about our local history and preserving it. He has been a long-time member, supporter and promoter of the Orillia Historical Society and the Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH).

Ninette Gyorody, OMAH Executive Director commented about Dick’s contributions:

“Dr. Dick Johnston has been a stalwart supporter of the Orillia Museum of Art & History since the 1999 amalgamation of the Orillia Historical Society and the Sir Sam Steele Art Gallery. Dick’s strong engagement with local, regional, and national history has been evident through his longstanding contribution to the annual Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner event and as a community champion. His sense of humour and charm comes through in every communication, whether by phone, email or in-person. I am honoured that Dick is such a good friend of the museum.”  

Photo Courtesy of Orillia Matters
The photo was taken at the 2020 Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner.
Left to right, Dr. Richard Johnson, Dr. Norman Kee, Guest Speaker Dr. Kevin Kee, Dean of Arts, University of Ottawa

Founder and committee member of major OMAH Fundraiser – The Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner

Dick was one of the founders of the annual Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner – A Celebration of Canada, a major fundraiser for OMAH. Over its twenty-two year history the dinner raised close to $100,000 in support of the OMAH programs that provide enrichment for Orillians, the surrounding townships and the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

Donald Macdonald, former chair of the Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner committee, commented about Dick’s role in the founding and success of the Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner:

“Dick, was a Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner fundraiser founder and committee member. For several years ending with the 2016 dinner, Dick was also chair of the committee, which became a major fundraiser for OMAH and a much looked forward to event in celebration of Canada. The dinner had a list of notable speakers over the twenty-two years it was held, before the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. As chair of the Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner committee and master of ceremonies of the dinners during his tenure, Dick put a great deal of hard work into the success of the dinners, always with the same enthusiasm and with his inimitable flashes of humour, so enjoyed by the guests and speakers alike.”

Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage (ORAH) – Qennefer Browne Achievement Award nomination

Dick has been twice nominated for an Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage (ORAH) – Qennefer Browne Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the cultural life in our community.

Respect for our Veterans – Take a Vet to Dinner founder and committee member

Dick is the co-founder of the annual Take a Vet to Dinner. Eighteen years ago, starting in 2004, military veterans and their partners have been treated annually to dinner and entertainment.

The concept of the event was to ensure local war veterans, both active and retired, were recognized and celebrated in a unique way, separate from Remembrance Day. This acknowledgement would be for their service to our country in conflicts ranging from World War One to the war in Afghanistan. 

The most recent event was sold out for the fifteenth year in October 2019. COVID-19 restrictions have paused this event for the past two years.

Dick had a major role in starting and organizing the Take a Vet to Dinner annual event. You purchase a ticket to the dinner and one for a veteran. A cause near and dear to Dick’s heart, his commitment to the importance of raising awareness of, and to show our appreciation to veterans from Orillia and surrounding area for their selfless service to our country, led him to found, organize and support this event. The dinner brought together veterans with their comrades in fellowship. At the dinner each veteran was recognized by name with their service affiliation.

Donald Macdonald commented:

“For a number of years Dick was both chair of the Take a Vet to Dinner committee and closely involved with the organizational details of the event. This entailed close attention to the venue and menu arrangements, promotion and publicity, finances, ticket sales and donations, the guest list and seating arrangements. And, most importantly the program and order of proceedings, including lining up an engaging speaker, as well as arranging for the participation of local students and cadets, often by their reading the names of the veterans in attendance.“

Trish Crowe – Grande, Chair of the OMAH History Committee, whose father attended the event annually. She commented:

“My father who served in the Second World War looked forward to attending this event each year, as have many other veterans. The dinner presents an opportunity for these veterans to spend time together as kindred spirits, sharing memories and reminiscing about the unique bond they share. It also provides an opportunity for the community to say thank you for the service and sacrifice made by these individuals and to let them know they are not forgotten.”

Take A Vet to Dinner – Dick Johnston / Lloyd Dennis Scholarship for Local Youth

To ensure the inclusivity and recognition of local youth, Dick was involved in the founding of a scholarship, awarded at the dinner to a student who had demonstrated an interest in veterans, the military and a willingness to volunteer. Funded by surplus proceeds from the dinner, the scholarship was named the Dick Johnston / Lloyd Dennis Scholarship for Local Youth, in honour of the co-founders of the dinner.

Appointment to the Honourable Guard of the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regiment

In 2019, in recognition of his making a difference for our veterans, Dick was appointed to the Honourable Guard of the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regiment.

One need only google ‘Take a Vet to Dinner Orillia’ to be left in no doubt just how much our deserving veterans have enjoyed the dinners. Dick’s long and demonstrated commitment to ensuring that the veterans in our community receive all the recognition they deserve was, no doubt, instrumental in his being appointed to the Honourable Guard of the Grey & Simcoe Foresters Regiment.” John Swartz SUNonline/Orillia 2019.

The cities of Cornwall and Ottawa have adopted this annual event co-founded by Dick Johnston as a way for those communities to support their strong desire to recognize their local veterans.

Remembrance Day service founder – Warminster Public School

For more than ten years, Dick was instrumental in establishing a long–time tradition at Warminster Public School of bringing veterans to the school in order to involve the youth at the school every Remembrance Day. The students were actively involved in the service and at the conclusion, the veterans would visit with the students and staff.  It was very impactful for all involved and drew many parents and community members to school for the service.

Over the years, students learned about meaning of Remembrance Day, carrying this understanding into their adult life. Maybe their grandfather or grandmother or other family members were involved. Because of Dick’s long-time commitment the students saw Remembrance Day in a new light and better understood the bravery of those who served and those who gave up their lives for our freedom.

Chair and member of several boards and committees for the betterment of our community

Dick has been chair and member of many boards over the years. His leadership and commitment to the betterment of the community inspires others.

Leacock Medal of Humour

Dick was Chair of the Leacock Medal of Humour for more than five years and acted as an engaging host of the dinner.


Couchiching Conservancy and St. Paul’s United Church

Dick served on the Advisory Council of the Couchiching Conservancy and has been a long-time member, supporter and promoter of the invaluable work they do to protect our environment. He also acted as the Board Chair of St. Paul’s United Church.


Respected Obstetrician and Gynecologist

Dick graduated from the University of Western Ontario medical school in 1969. In 1974 he completed his residency at McMaster University.

Dick was well-respected and dedicated obstetrician and gynecologist in Orillia for forty-five years, retiring on June 3, 2019. His retirement was seen as a loss to the medical community by colleagues and patients. Dick showed a passion for the health of his patients and healthcare in our community.

Lifetime Member of the Ontario Medical Association

In 2014, Dick was made a lifetime member of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). The OMA Lifetime Membership recognized his outstanding contribution to the work of the association in the interest of the medical profession.

Board of the College of Physician and Surgeons

Dick was member of the Board of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and was Chair of the Ontario Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Co-founder Medical Alumni of Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (MASH) IN 2008

The Medical Alumni of Soldiers’ Memorial (MASH) was created in 2008 by Dick Johnston and Maureen Harris, who was a long-time chief of nursing at the hospital. Dick was committed to ensuring that the staff at Orillia Soldier’s Memorial Hospital (OSMH) had an opportunity to stay connected to the hospital and their former colleagues.

Dick said this about MASH:

“MASH may be one of the most inclusive alumni groups of its kind. Anyone who considers themselves an OSMH alumni is automatically considered an alumnus and welcomed.” He also noted that the group includes doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and maintenance staff. 

The group also works hard to ensure widows and widowers were included and volunteers provide rides to events to those who needed it.

Save our Soldiers (SOS) His Love and Support for Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital

Dick is incredible at rallying the community and he did just that back in 2007 when he chaired Save Our Soldiers (SOS).

In 2007, poor morale and internal tension at the hospital caused by management disputes with staff, the board of directors and the community, led Dick to rally the community in support of the hospital and medical care in Orillia, and to help bring about change in leadership. Dick said at the time: It’s far too easy for a small, elite, self-appointed board to take control of a hospital without input from the community.”

2007 Citizen of the Year Recipient

In December 2007, The Orillia Packet and Times announced that the City of Orillia had proclaimed Dr. Richard Johnston ‘Citizen of the Year’ in recognition of his stalwart support for our community.

Continued Advocacy for Soldiers’ and Health Care

When in May 2016, budget-driven cuts were being made that were affecting morale and the quality of care at OSMH, Dick again rallied the community to stand up and advocate for the hospital and for our right to publicly funded health care.

Thank You

Dick’s strong sense of social justice has always been front and centre. He is a mover and a shaker and is not afraid to rock the boat for the causes that are near and dear to his heart. He has made a difference.

For his dedication to the wellbeing of our community Dr. Dick Johnston is deserving of this tribute.

Thank you, Dick.




Thank you to the following for their invaluable help with this tribute to Dick Johnston:

  1. Wendy Johnston
  2. Beth Kudar
  3. Ninette Gyorody – OMAH Executive Director
  4. Donald Macdonald – Past Chair, Sir John A. Dinner – A Celebration of Canada OMAH fundraiser
  5. Trish Crowe – Grande, Chair, OMAH History Committee
  6. John Swartz SUNonline/Orillia – “Take A Vet to Dinner” October 17, 2019  
  7. Orillia Matters

 – Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner – Recognizing the amount earned by the dinner for OMAH Published May 7, 2019

– Photo credit Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner held on January 11, 2020

  1. Orillia Today – Frank Matys Ontario Health Cuts Worry Residents – Published May, 2016
  2. Globe & Mail – TIM SHUFELT INVESTMENT REPORTER – Orillia Hospital Executives Resign


  1. Orillia Packet of Times – Dr. Richard Johnston, Citizen of the Year, Published December 31, 2007
  2. The Couchiching Conservancy
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