Julie Hamilton has turned personal tragedy into a selfless commitment to making a difference as an inspiring advocate for workplace safety. She generously supports the Children’s Wish Foundation with all proceeds from her advocacy work.
Julia Helen Dundass was born in Hamilton, Ontario on July 4, 1948 and grew up in neighbouring community of Brantford. Julia, or Julie as she is generally known, grew up with her brother, John, and sister, Chris, in a tight-knit family. They enjoyed classic small-town childhood activities and learned important lessons in volunteerism and work ethic from their parents, John and Edythe. Julie also developed a keen interest in art and a love of the outdoors.
Julie attended Wilfred Laurier University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in 1971. She married fellow student, Bob Hamilton, in 1972 and continued her studies earning a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Toronto. Julie began a career as a high school guidance counsellor and physical education teacher. She then enhanced her skills as a guidance specialist with further training at the University of Toronto where she also served as lecturer with the Faculty of Education. In the early 1980s, Julie and Bob welcomed a son, Tim, and a daughter, Maggie.
In 1983, the couple moved with their young children to Calgary so that Bob could pursue a job opportunity. They had intended on a brief stay before returning to Ontario but came to realize that the positive and outgoing spirit of the city and province were a perfect fit for them. The Hamilton family chose to make Alberta their home. Julie immersed herself in painting, meeting with a community of fellow artists to learn and further develop her skills. She also launched Alberta Arts Presents Ltd., a private business that Julie and a friend used to represent Alberta artists and promote their work for corporate sale. The business afforded Julie the flexibility of working while raising Tim and Maggie. Bob and Julie also immersed themselves in Calgary’s vibrant community of volunteers, serving in a variety of capacities with The Calgary Stampede and the Canadian Red Cross. In 1988, Julie joined the army of Winter Olympic Games volunteers and helped coordinate their activities at Stampede Park. In 1989 Julie made the decision to step away from her art sales business when she realized that she’d rather spend her time creating art than selling it. She returned her focus to painting and continued her art education at the Alberta College of Art and other institutions across the province.
In 1997, the first of two life altering events hit the Hamiltons. Maggie was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 15. She began two years of difficult treatments and the family was plunged into fear and uncertainty. Half way through Maggie’s treatments, the Children’s Wish Foundation granted her the opportunity to fulfill a dream. By April 1999, the cancer was in remission and Maggie was well enough to see her wish come true – to take a trip with her big brother, whom she adored. The family travelled to the Caribbean where Maggie and Tim enjoyed the holiday of a lifetime. Three months later, Tim was killed on the site of his summer job when he came in contact with a high voltage line. He was 19.
Julie realized that within the unthinkable tragedy there existed an opportunity to save other families from experiencing the same kind of profound loss. She wrote four letters to contacts in the business world offering to come and talk to their employees about workplace safety. She received three responses and began developing a program that she hoped would force people to listen and motivate them to put safety first. Soon the presentation Missing Tim was born.
Julie has made hundreds of presentations since she began her crusade. As of 2014 she had presented at more than 80 corporations across North America, reaching tens of thousands of workers. While she speaks at all levels of the organization and reinforces that the right choices need to be made at every level, her focus is on speaking from the shop floor to the front line workers. She encourages them to work as a team to help keep each other safe. She approaches them as a mom, reminding them that their loved ones need them to come home safe at the end the workday. Julie Hamilton’s job safety message is powerful, emotional and, ultimately, very impactful for those who hear it. Missing Tim has been called “the most influential presentation on safety … a thought provoking style that leaves the recipient forever changed.”
Julie admits that her initial goal was a simple one, saying, “I think I went out speaking as a way of not letting Tim disappear. I get to mother him when I tell the world what a great kid he was, and how this never should have happened. It was wrong. He deserved better.” Out of loss, Julie Hamilton has built a powerful legacy in her son’s memory and she has been credited with helping to shift attitudes and reshape the workplace safety culture in Alberta and Canada.
In fact, there are two legacies at play in Julie’s work. She performs her essential job safety work strictly as a volunteer. For every presentation she offers, the sponsoring company makes a donation to the Tim Hamilton Endowment Fund at the Children’s Wish Foundation. This helps to keep alive the special bond that Tim and Maggie Hamilton enjoyed while allowing other children to see their wishes fulfilled. As of 2014, the endowment fund had raised more than half a million dollars.
While Missing Tim is an important focus for Julie, the emotional content of the work can be draining. Despite that, she continues to serve as a volunteer and give back to the community in other capacities. Julie serves on the Advisory Board of the Children’s Wish Foundation. Over the years she has also been involved with the Bob Glasgow Grief Support Network, the Children’s Hospital Aid Society, the Red Cross and the Learning Centre. For her many contributions and inspiring service Julie received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and was recognized as one of the 100 Exceptional Alumni of Wilfred Laurier University.
Julie Hamilton’s energy and generous spirit are an inspiration. She credits some of her great motivation to her personal motto “paint the poem.” The phrase, drawn from a painting class exercise, reminds her to always express herself and to live life in broad and dynamic strokes. She has used that gift to great effect and, in doing so, she has helped countless others to give back, to cherish life and to get home safely.
Julie and Bob live in Calgary. When not volunteering, Julie continues to paint, travel, spend time outdoors and spend time with family and friends. Their family includes Maggie who continues to enjoy a healthy life and is in remission 15 years after her treatment, Maggie’s husband, Tyron Burgos and grandchildren William (5) and Kendra (3).