Patriot Hearts: A review of John Furlong’s new book

Patriot Hearts
Furlong’s book provides insights into 2010 Olympic Games Flickr photo: Miss604

The one nice thing about getting away on holidays, besides the sun and surf, is the opportunity to read for pleasure. Before our family left town for spring break, I picked up a copy of Patriot Hearts by VANOC CEO John Furlong. I should note the book was co-authored by Webster award-winning journalist Gary Mason.

I first heard about Patriot Hearts when it made headlines in the media regarding some unflattering remarks Furlong made regarding Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. I had a feeling it would make for an entertaining read during my holidays, and it didn’t disappoint. If you were in any way impacted by the 2010 Olympics, Furlong’s book is worth the $35 sticker price (with a lower cost for the e-book).

There were a number of personal reasons why I took an interest in Patriot Hearts. They include the fact I previously worked for 2010 Legacies Now, and played a small behind-the-scenes role during Canada’s presence at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. And, as many of our readers know, Mike Klassen and I also developed the wildly popular "Where 2 Be for Free" Olympics guide in the lead up to the Games.

My interest in the Games was really put into high gear back in 2004 when I was hired by Olympic medal winner Marion Lay to work for 2010 Legacies Now (now known as LIFT). Lay, whose partner also happens to be Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem, helped form a not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring communities across the province benefitted from our province hosting the Games. I was one of the first employees hired and put in charge of the newly formed communications department.

As fate would have it, this would be the first time I also got to work with Judy Rogers (the previous Vancouver City Manager), as she was the chair of the 2010 Legacies Now board. Not long after I left to work for Mayor Sam Sullivan, Lay would be replaced as CEO by the ever-capable Bruce Dewar. In 2008, Penny Ballem would eventually take over from Judy Rogers as City Manager after she was fired by Mayor Gregor Robertson. A small world isn’t it?

My stint at 2010 Legacies Now was my first introduction to John Furlong. He was an impressive figure who you instinctively knew was going to make it over the finishing line. He inspired deep loyalty from his VANOC team, who worked long days to ensure everything went off without a hitch. As I sifted through each chapter of Furlong’s book, it most certainly brought back some very interesting memories.

It was not until I started my post as Chief of Staff to former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan that I really got to know and work closely with Furlong. Within weeks of being sworn into office, Sullivan needed to be briefed on all things Olympic and prepare himself to be thrust upon the world stage.

Two key Olympics-related items were on the agenda in the early part of Sullivan’s mandate. They included preparing for the 2006 Torino Games closing ceremony, and appointing someone with top-notch business experience to the VANOC board of directors. The former Mayor felt that the 2010 Games were a multi-billion dollar operation that required some heavy duty business acumen to help guide it over the coming years.

After a number of sit-down interviews, we discovered that Jeff Mooney (President and CEO of A&W restaurants) would be open to serving on the board. The only problem we had was that Marion Lay (the City’s appointment) would have to be replaced in order to create a vacancy for Mooney. After a private meeting of council, it was announced that Mooney would be taking up his post. Based upon Furlong’s comments in his book, it was clear that replacing Lay with Mooney sat well with VANOC’s CEO. Furlong states:

To us, Jeff was like the guy sitting on the bench always ready to leap over the boards and help out. The firepower and soul behind the A&W empire, he had contributed so much to VANOC, especially in the area of communications and marketing.

I like how Furlong’s book provides Olympic fans with an insight into the Games rarely seen from the eyes of its CEO. It’s pretty clear that the death of the Georgian luger Nodor Kumaritashvili on the first day of the Games really impacted the VANOC team, and in particular its boss. As a Francophone, I was also surprised to learn how Furlong’s fear of French seems to have paralyzed him at times in the lead up and during the Games.

The only disappointment (if you can call it that) for me was Furlong’s lack of acknowledgment that our "Where 2 Be For Free" guide played a role in getting people pumped up about the Games. Despite fielding hundreds of re-directed calls from VANOC (at the expense of my colleague Mike Klassen’s time) during the Olympics, there was barely a mention of the role free venues played in making the Games an inclusive experience. Yet if you asked the hundreds of thousands of people that couldn’t afford to get access to Olympic tickets, they’d tell you the free venues promoted by GlobalTV, CKNW, this blog and others, were their only opportunity to be a part of the Games.

Overall I would highly recommend the book for those looking to better understand the man who played such a pivotal role in making the 2010 Games a real success. One now has to wonder what the next chapter in Furlong’s life will be. It will be hard to top being the CEO of an organization like VANOC, but I’m sure whatever he does he’ll be successful at it.

In one passage Furlong recounts how in the fall of 1974 he packed up his family and moved to Canada. Upon arrival, an immigration officer told him "welcome to Canada – make us better". Thanks to John’s heroic efforts, it’s safe to say he more than followed through on that command.

– post by Daniel. Follow @CityCaucus on Twitter.

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  • politics101

    As I Blue Jacket volunteer I can related to many of the articles in the book – I was fortunate enough to participate in a flash mob promo for the book and have a signed autographed copy with John`s signature on it – it is a good read and well worth the cost.
    I agree with your words that the death of Nodor hit the organization hard and many of the volunteers were impacted by that event.
    John`s personal life long battle with migraines is also something that received very little play probably because John didn`t want anything to distract him in achieving a successful Games.

  • Barry

    Sorry. At $35 I certainly wouldn’t buy it. And you would have to pay me a heck of a lot more than that to waste my time to read it.

  • victor

    If only Mr Furlong would run for the NPA as Mayor, Vancouver citizens would be cheered by a true leader .
    To have this amazing man run our city would renew our faith in leadership and common sense. We would have someone who understands how to really make Vancouver the best city in which to live, someone who knows how to create priorities while working within a constraints.
    Now that would be a real lift from the current gang who have a weird agenda set by their funding masters. Vision Vancouver shows that this is NOT a way to run a city.
    I say…..John for Mayor! That would be a real patriot game.

  • Ned

    Victor…John Furlong as Mayor of Vancouver? Based on his VANOC record of self entitlement, or based on his jolly ol’ boy club membership? Tell you what, your comment is funnier than Glissando’s (and it is very hard to top Glissy)
    Good luck with your Furlong crush, buddy.