No one may have had more concern for their community than Guelph resident Keith Lymburner, say those who knew him.
Keith’s passion for helping others shined through his work as the former director of Torchlight Industries, who passed away due to cancer earlier this year. He was an advocate for people who experience disabilities and was an active volunteer within the Guelph community.
Rhondda Lymburner, Keith’s wife, said Keith was a compassionate person and started out working with people dealing with drug or alcohol addictions.
“In the mid '70s to the late '80s, there was a growing movement for social services for people with disabilities, and he and other associates in his workshop ... were kind of the creators and the developers of the workshop programs (for people with disabilities)," said Rhondda, noting those services have since been dismantled.
"He was right there ready to be involved in anything that was developing services for people that needed more help."
Born in Smithville, Ont. and raised on a family farm, Keith came to Guelph in 1968 to study social services at the University of Guelph. Right away, he began to volunteer and helped coach a boy’s slo-pitch team.
The volunteer role was fit for an avid sports enthusiast like Keith, who cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Guelph Storm.
Rhondda notes he was a loyal fan.
“He loved sports, he loved to play, he played on the men's slow-pitch league for many years," said Rhondda, noting he also curled in the winters.
In 1973, Keith began working at 2nd Chance Employment and would meet Rhondda five years later. Rhondda, who was working at the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said they shared clients. The couple dated for two years before getting married in the 1980s.
“He was fun. He knew a lot about social services and he did a lot of volunteering," she said about Keith.
After getting married, the couple moved into a semi-detached home along the Speed River. Keith bought the home after attending university in 1974, and the couple remained in the house for 48 years, raising one son, named Blake. Rhondda said Keith enjoyed tending the gardens on the property in his spare time.
When he wasn't working, Keith could be found volunteering with a number of organizations, including United Way, Big Brothers, Kinsmen, Wellington Men's Club and the Developmental Services Planning Group, where Keith was the executive director for over 15 years.
Bob Butella volunteered alongside Keith on the Developmental Services Planning Group. He recalls Keith being very intelligent, having a dry sense of humour and a passion about the work the board was doing.
"Keith believed in making things better, more effective and more efficient for the people who are using the system," said Butella.
After 2nd Chance, Keith joined Torchlight Industries in 1979 and became director. He remained there for the rest of his career, retiring in 2016.
For three years, Keith was involved in a program called Gaining Real Opportunities for Work (GROW), which provided employment services for youth with disabilities. Keith collaborated with Chris Baginski-Hansen from 2nd Chance Employment and Butella.
Baginski-Hansen said the project was a great collaboration for all three of them, as each brought their own expertise.
"It was really successful, but unfortunately, the funding didn't last, but it was a really good project," said Baginski-Hansen about GROW. “Keith really knew the value of making sure that people felt that they belonged."
“He was quite passionate about making the community a better place,” added Butella. "A lot of us new guys to the industry looked up to him as a mentor."
Relationships were another important part of Keith's life. Rhondda said Keith loved his friends, frequently went out with colleagues after work and took family commitments very seriously, like Christmas.
"He wrote wonderful Christmas letters," said Rhondda.
On April 30, 2022, Keith passed away from colon cancer at the age of 74. Rhondda said Keith was blessed with many friends throughout his life and didn't forget a name.
"Particularly with Kinsmen, he developed a large social group and had a number of friends throughout the years," said Rhondda. "He enjoyed a number of those friendships until he died."
"I really enjoyed working with Keith and I miss him," said Baginski-Hansen. "He had a real commitment to this community."