If there is one person you should introduce yourself to at Vintage Wings of Canada this year, make it Todd Lemieux, our new Chairman of the Board. You will be glad you did, for your life will be the richer for it. Todd has been involved with Vintage Wings as a volunteer pilot and event organizer for the past three years, and he has committed to taking a couple of years off from a successful Oil Patch career to lead Vintage Wings towards a self-funding existence, capable of self-sustained operation independent of the present massively generous financial support of our Founder and major benefactor, Michael U. Potter. While Mike will remain our single biggest funder and donor of assets such as the major part of our fleet and our hangar, Mike needs to know that the legacy he has created will stand on his own, long after he is gone. We need to move on this new model now, and while others talk and utter the word “sustainability” and hope that it will magically transpire, Todd Lemieux, bred and raised in the hard work ethic of a Saskatchewan family farm, knows that no pile of cow manure will be moved until someone picks up a shovel.
Todd Lemieux is a physicist and geologist who has worked in the Oil Patch of Saskatchewan and Alberta for nearly two decades. He was a fast fracking, oil well-drilling, warbird-flying, life-loving man's man who built a strong reputation for taking on low-performing companies and making them profitable. Todd is at home in any airplane, on the back of a quarter horse or on the monkey board of an Oil Patch drill rig. He thinks fashion is for pussies, lies are for liars and he can say the word “Cockshutt” without embarrassment.
Todd, who I can't help but call “Farmboy”, was taught by his grandfather, a veteran of the war and a “Grand Torino”-like mentor with a caustic tongue, a direct manner and no time whatsoever for useless blather, to say what is on his mind, to speak to the obvious, to ask the hard questions, unmask the elephant in the room and to get to frickin' work!
The dictionary defines the term “l'enfant terrible” as a child who is terrifyingly candid and who says embarrassing things to adults, especially parents. However, the expression also implies a successful "genius" who is very unorthodox, striking, and in some cases rebellious. That describes Todd very well, except that he also inspires confidence, mines work from his friends, and is a tremendous team builder. He leads by example and if you take a minute to grasp the amount of work he does, you are shamed into working harder and giving more.
In addition to heading up a diverse team of board members, Todd will lead the Raytheon Canada Yellow Wings Cross Canada Cadet Tribute throughout the summer of 2013, but, in order to make that happen, he has been working with his fundraising meter pinned in the red zone for the past few months, drumming up sponsors, donors, and corporate contributors. He is doing the heavy lifting on all fronts, organizing the Yellow Wings schedule, recruiting pilots, knocking on corporate doors with a pitch for funding, and chairing the Board of Directors, demonstrating through action what he expects from his board. At Vintage Wings, we have plenty of people who are happy to impart their advice and good counsel at member events, board meetings and out on the field. This of course is all well and good, but what we really need is someone to lift this enterprise up to a new level by actually doing real work, asking difficult questions, ringing doorbells, fracking wallets and leveraging their reputation and experience to make the idea of a self-sustaining enterprise more than just ideas. Ideas are like sphincters, one way and everyone has them.
From very early on, Lemieux understood the tremendous opportunity that the Air Cadet program presented to him. “Air Cadets was probably the single most important thing that I participated in during my formative years.” says Lemieux, “It taught me leadership, citizenship and the importance of goal achievement. Learning to fly in Air Cadets gave me an early sense of situational awareness and helped me immensely in my post-secondary academic studies and my chosen career in the oil and gas industry. I am a better leader because of it. The ability to consider all variables in multi-faceted decision making all started on a parade square in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and a runway at an abandoned military base in Gimli, Manitoba. The guys and girls that I grew up with, sharing and learning from each other as we learned to fly at an early age have remained lifelong trusted friends. It's a great program and I care not to imagine my life without its early influence on me.”
If you find yourself at one of our member events, the Formation Camp, Annual Recurrent Training, the Gatineau–Ottawa en vol Air Show, get someone to point out Todd, and introduce yourself... and ask if there is something you can do. Here are a few images I stole from Todd's Facebook page and some other insights into the man.
Flight Sergeant Todd Lemieux receives his pilot wings in a ceremony at Gimli, Manitoba. Gaze upon his serious face, for this will be the only time you will see him without a smile. Winning those coveted Air Cadet wings was something he had devoted every waking hour to for years as a cadet, so he can be excused the momentary lapse in his smile. Todd looks back on his cadet experience as formative – the finest youth developmental and leadership training program anywhere in Canada. Taking on the task of running the Raytheon Canada Yellow Wings 2013 Cross Canada Air Cadet Tribute Tour was the chance for him to give back to the program that made him successful in the air and under the ground. Photo via Lemieux family
A newspaper clipping from the Moose Jaw Times Herald tells the south Saskatchewan community about a teenaged Todd Lemieux's success as a glider pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. Image via Todd Lemieux
After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon in physics and geology, Todd Lemieux soon found himself in the middle of the Alberta Oil Patch employing his scientific acumen, but still learning to do everything from drill the “oreo” at 1500 meters to resuscitating unprofitable oil patch companies and making them winners. While we may never have to drill for oil in the Bakken, Todd's chutzpa and can-do attitude may just help us frack a few wallets of Canada's philanthropists and there is no doubt he will lead the board and the enterprise to self-sustainability, if not profitability. Image via Lemieux's Facebook page
While he may be Chairman of the Board of one of Canada's most dynamic not-for-profit charities, he is no stuffed shirt... no Western pilot is. Todd can quote freely and appropriately from cultural bibles such as The Simpsons, SCTV, The Farmers Almanac as well as CARs. He drinks coffee in the morning and beer in the evening. He drinks in your story all day. Todd is a personal friend of Dr. Evil. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
When Todd began getting some traction in the Oil Patch, he translated his gains into his dream – a beautiful Citabria Decathalon (C-GAUR). For Lemieux, flying his Citabria up into a remote Alberta or Montana airfield and sleeping in a tent under the wing, is what aviation is all about. It is this poetic approach combined with making the hard decisions, doing the hard work and putting in the hard hours that has been a recipe for success in his career. Lemieux has brought the same work ethic to his volunteer mission here at Vintage Wings of Canada. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
Todd is no big city, dude ranch, urban cowboy/weekend lasso artist. He is just at home on horseback, in the cockpit of his newly acquired T-28 Trojan, aptly named “Just Doer” or in the open and hard seat of his father's old Cockshutt combine. Dogs love him, women follow him around, men envy his ease. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
Todd Lemieux and the Bill McRae Tiger Moth. When you run an organization like Vintage Wings of Canada, you want at the head of the Board someone who “gets it”, someone who understands not just how we do things, but why we do things. Since he was a young boy, living, flying and farming in rural Saskatchewan, he was virtually inside the Moose Jaw airfield circuit, with pilot trainees in their Tutor aircraft buzzing the farm. Stories of the young men who went through No. 32 Service Flying Training School during the Second World War permeated legend and everyday conversation in the small community. Artifacts from those days could still be found by a young boy with an imagination and a determination. Todd and his friends would often venture out onto the dry lake bed of Old Wives Lake, a shallow saline lake in south central Saskatchewan, about 30 km southwest of Moose Jaw. Old Wives was used for gunnery practice during the war, but in the dry season, it was a vast salty mudflat holding the detritus of years of aviation overhead. Out there, amidst the cracked and dried mud, they found remnants of a long ago crashed Fairey Battle and salvaged a fuselage roundel which, today, still graces the wall of his family's implement and equipment shed. Todd's imagination and respect allows him to imagine a line, uninterrupted by the veil of history, from his shed wall to the spirits of the young men who led us to victory and salvation so long ago.
Todd shows intense empathy with men like Harry Hannah, Archie Pennie and Bill McRae, whose names grace the aircraft he flies for Vintage Wings. Their stories he has taken the time to know and embrace, so that he can pass them on to Canadians, especially the young people who are presently following in his footsteps – the blue uniformed and starry-eyed young boys and girls of the Royal Canadian Air Cadet program. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
Todd's love of flying has taken him inexorably down the road to warbird Nirvana, and all, save his initial licenses, at his own expense. Today he flies his brutish T-28 Trojan, Just Doer at air shows and with his friend and like-minded T-28 owner Bruce Evans. He absorbs, relishes and out-and-out enjoys formation flying, maintenance, aerobatics, friendships, and all aspects of the passionate aviation life he has created.
The United States Navy training squadron VT-2 had a crow/oriole cartoon bird, the Doer Bird, as its mascot, and every one of their aircraft was known as a “Doer Bird.” The engine cowling of Todd's Trojan sports an image of the Doer Bird, with the motto “Just Doer” beneath. Perhaps this motto describes Lemieux's idea of how to run an enterprise or business better than any mission statement crafted by a communications “expert” – stop talking, stop thinking someone else should execute your wonderful ideas, stop writing reports, stop commanding from on high, ... and JUST DOER!!!! Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
Old school Lemieux. Todd, while an adopter of all forms of modern communication and convenience, still loves the thrill and personal hands-on achievement of flight planning and route following, the old fashioned way – with maps – big, unwieldy, folding, confusing and beautiful maps with inked routes and way points, flapping in the slipstream. A GPS makes a terrible sun shade. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
Lemieux is a rock star oil patch fracker and company builder. In many ways he is like the Most Interesting Man in the World. He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels. The police often question him just because they find him interesting. He's a lover, not a fighter. But he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas. If he dreams of you, your life will change forever. If you dream of him, he knows. When it is raining, it is because he is thinking of something sad. He lives vicariously through himself. His shirts never wrinkle. On every continent in the world, there is a sandwich named after him. His hands feel like rich brown suede. Cuba imports cigars from him. Mosquitoes refuse to bite him purely out of respect. In museums, he is allowed to touch the art. His business card simply says “I’ll call you.” He has won the lifetime achievement award, twice. Once while sailing around the world, he discovered a short cut. When he drives a new car off the lot, it increases in value. His passport requires no photograph. Even his enemies list HIM as their emergency contact. His mother has a tattoo that says "Son." The star on his Christmas tree is tracked by NASA. When he is in Rome, the Romans do as he does. He once knew his call was the wrong number even though the person on the other end wouldn't admit it. His reputation is expanding faster than the universe. You can see his charisma from space. With apologies to Dos Equis XX Beer. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page
While Hollywood aviators have ridiculously sounding, self-indulgent call signs like Viper, Maverick, Iceman, Stinger, and Cougar, Todd Lemieux goes by the name of Pepé, after that amourous French skunk cartoon character of Looney Tunes fame, one Pepé Le Pew. Unlike his animated weasel namesake, Pepé Lemieux's love and affection is requited – for the simple reason that he, unlike the storied skunk of Paris, whose malodorous personality causes others to be repelled, wears the heady cologne of joy, the aftershave of happiness, the nasal clearing whiff of avgas. This comes from the fact that he wakes each day to find himself doing what he loves. Lead on Mr. Chairman. Photo via Lemieux's Facebook page