In the winter of 2003, the NWTRPA Board led by President Theresa Ross hired Geoff Ray to be the organization’s first full-time Executive Director. Geoff was more than just the NWTRPA’s first full-time ED, he was the organization’s first full-time employee period. And what an employee he was. Though initially only hired as a one-year mat leave replacement, Geoff remained with the organization for 16 and a half wonderful years.
Geoff’s time at the NWTRPA came to an end last week; he is now the Special Advisor to the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Lands, and the Power Corporation. The Board and staff of the NWTRPA would like to take this opportunity to reflect on Geoff’s contributions to the organization as well as recreation in the NWT over the last decade and a half.
Under Geoff’s leadership, the NWTRPA grew to a full-time staff of seven that focus their attention on four key program areas: Active Communities, Professional Development, On the Land Programs, and Membership and Communications. Long-time Board member Tim Van Dam notes that one of Geoff’s best qualities as an administrator is his “incredible ability to see the promise and possibilities in people that come into the NWTRPA family. Geoff has sought out and opened the doors to creative, energetic, forward-thinking, and joyful people.”
NWTRPA staff members past and present have valued Geoff’s kindness and compassionate leadership, his mentorship and work ethic, and his efforts to cultivate a supportive and collaborative organizational culture. Former staff member Annie Casson recalls, “Between pond hockey, potlucks, and birthday celebrations, Geoff brought people together and created a sense of community in the office.” More than one staff member cited Geoff’s open-door policy and his care for them not just as staff, but as people. Many others made note of Geoff’s legendary sweet tooth.
Geoff oversaw the launch of a number of successful NWTRPA programs, past and present, including Walk to Tuk (formerly the Mackenzie River Walking Challenge), Get Active, the Mackenzie Youth Leadership Trip, and Elders in Motion. During his tenure, many of these programs gained national recognition. In 2007 the Mackenzie Youth Leadership Trip was celebrated with the CPRA Award of Innovation, in 2015 Walk to Tuk was named a Play Exchange Finalist, and in 2018 Elders in Motion was celebrated during the Canadian Frailty Network’s Innovation Showcase.
Geoff played a vital role in the pan-territorial team that was named an Arctic Inspiration Prize laureate in 2015. The NWTRPA, RPAY, and RPAN, under the umbrella of the newly-founded Recreation North, a first-of-its-kind pan-recreation partnership, created the Tri-Territorial Recreation Training Program. This competency-based, modular recreation leadership training program was designed specifically by and for Northerners. Program collaborator Caroline Sparks notes, “The quality I have come to appreciate the most about Geoff has been his ability to manage a meeting or conference call with a bunch of strong-minded people who all have different ideas and who want to share them at the same time. In the midst of what sometimes bordered on chaos, Geoff would remain calm and patiently remind us where we were, where we had come from, and where we wanted to go.”
Geoff has played an important role in shaping recreation at both the territorial and national levels. Debbie DeLancey had this to say about her encounters with Geoff while she was Deputy Minister of MACA in the early 2000s: “Geoff brought a uniquely northern interpretation of what is included in the definition of recreation, and of the importance of community and cultural perspectives. Geoff’s input always helped to broaden the conversation about what it meant to support communities with ‘sport and recreation’!” Meanwhile, CJ Noble, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, had this to say about Geoff: “CPRA is indebted to Geoff for the northern perspective he provided to our dialogues and decisions. He always brought this perspective in a solution-oriented manner—determined to make the work of CPRA relevant to NWTRPA members.”
And what has Geoff to say in response?: “In this role, I have had the pleasure of working with many, many incredible people; staff members, Board members, people working with partner organizations, and people delivering important recreation programs have all had a profound impact on me. I still rely on many of these relationships to help me become better at my job and to become a better person. I am very proud of the work of the NWTRPA and feel good about leaving the organization in the hands of a smart and hard-working Board of Directors and an incredibly capable group of staff.”
It’s hard to imagine the NWTRPA without Geoff, but he leaves a lasting legacy in the form of a passionate and capable staff team; strong community, territorial, and national partnerships; and innovative and effective programs. Thank you, Geoff, for all that you have done for the NWTRPA and recreation in the North and in Canada. We wish you all the best in your new role!
NOTE: Jess Dunkin will take over as the interim Executive Director until a permanent replacement can be found. You can reach Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org | (867) 669-8376.