In 2016, Pierce Pineau, a 17 year old with a recent spinal cord injury and a passion for aviation, received a post-secondary scholarship to help him, quite literally, take flight. No one was more proud than Pineau’s family… except maybe the scholarship donor himself. We asked Scott Stanley, a personal injury lawyer at Murphy Battista LLP and the man behind the new Scott Stanley Scholarship, about why he gives.
Scott, as a personal injury lawyer at Murphy Battista LLP, you act for accident victims and their families. But how long have you been involved with SCI BC?
Our firm’s been involved with SCI BC forever, but I’ve been the person primarily responsible for the relationship since about 2011.
You’re involved professionally but also more personally with the scholarship. What is it about our organization does that speaks to you?
How do you put that into words? I just don’t own the words to describe how amazing your organization is and what hope it gives to people. To have the ability to support an organization like this is just an incredible honour. Funding a scholarship is my way of making a small contribution to the incredible work that you folks do.
So, what gave you the idea to start a scholarship specifically?
From time to time, I come across people at my work where you really can’t offer them a legal solution but you can try to offer them a practical solution to try to help get them back to where they should have been. And sometimes money isn’t an evil thing—money’s a good thing. It doesn’t buy happiness but money can help kill problems, and I strongly believe in that.
I have funded various scholarships and provided ad hoc funding to people that have been socially disadvantaged for education purposes. I’ve contributed so that people that have acquired brain injuries or have been victims of sexual abuse can go to school. And I’ve funded a scholarship for kids in Northern Saskatchewan, so it just seemed like a natural thing to do given what I’ve done in the past.
Northern Saskatchewan. Why there?
Well, it’s where I grew up! Though it’s debatable whether or not I actually have finished growing up, but I gave it a try, in Hudson Bay Saskatchewan. It’s nowhere near the bay of water. It’s actually a railroad junction that used to take stuff up to the Bay. It’s on the old fur trade route—really steeped with great Canadian history.
I have very strong perspective about Northern Saskatchewan and having modest means, because that’s where I grew up. And I think whenever you can identify need, or need is demonstrated to you in a very obvious sort of way, it’s really hard to do nothing. Initially I started funding a scholarship there with another colleague of mine, and from there I started funding other things on an ad hoc basis.
I think whenever you can identify need, or need is demonstrated to you in a very obvious sort of way, it’s really hard to do nothing.
And what is it about education that’s so important?
Education gives everyone opportunity. If you have an education it doesn’t matter if you’re poor, it doesn’t matter what sort of social disadvantage you may have. Education is the great equalizer. And when people have spinal cord injuries they can use and develop their intellectual abilities, their educational and vocational abilities with their mind as opposed to their body. It really makes sense to me that, for people who have sustained a spinal cord injury, the great equalizer for them is education and having access to that.
And I’ve just seen my clients who have had access to education and funding—they’re able to do these wonderful things with their lives if they’re just given the opportunity.
Did you grow up with charitable values, or is it more through your work with clients that you’ve grown into such a philanthropist?
It’s hard to say. I actually think giving is born out of guilt. I mean, I’ve been just blessed to lead such a wonderful life and I think giving is a way of purging your guilt. I see, I have seen and I continue to see these amazing people overcome obstacles that I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to try to defeat. So it might be a sort of selfish reason that I give—I think initially it’s a guilt response. I think guilt is the spark of your conscience trying to awaken your understanding of something.But when you give and you see it produce a result, it just becomes a logical thing to do. I wouldn’t say it’s a moral thing, it’s just a logical thing. Does that make sense at all?
It does to us. Go on…
I give money—for me it’s the logical thing. But you don’t have to give with money—you can give with your time. And often, actually, I think that can be a better way of giving if you’ve got time to give.
But I think when you kind of get those pangs of guilt, people should explore them a little bit and see where they’re coming from and why they’re feeling them.
Has your life changed at all since you’ve become involved with Spinal Cord Injury BC?
What it has done is it has reaffirmed for me that the human spirit is indomitable—it will always fight back. It will try to restore itself. It will try to repair itself. And some of the bravest battles I’ve seen are people with spinal cord injuries trying to get their life back.
So yes, I think it has. I mean when you try to bear witness to people who take on these odds—and don’t willingly take on these odds; these odds are forced upon them—it just makes you think that anything is possible. It brings it to the forefront of your consciousness how amazing the human spirit is, and people are inherently hard-working, they’re inherently diligent. And we’re inherently stoic. And I see that demonstrated time and time again with the people I meet through SCI BC as well as my clients.
And can you tell us a little bit about the scholarship itself?
Yes! The scholarship will be directed at newly-injured people to try to help them by funding education opportunities for them. I mean, you never know where things are going to take you. You start doing something and you just build upon it.
That sounds personal. Given that you yourself come from a small town, do you consider yourself as representing underdogs in your legal field?
I’ve always loved underdogs. I strongly believe that challenge coupled with opportunity can be the strongest gift you ever give anybody. And often that challenge, in our world, presents itself as poverty. And when you have poverty, and poverty is almost always associated with people who have spinal cord injuries, it just doubles the challenge. So I think if you’re going to double the challenge, you need to tweak and increase the opportunity for people—just to kind of level the playing field. And so I think that’s probably why I thought about the scholarship.
I strongly believe that challenge coupled with opportunity can be the strongest gift you ever give anybody.
So do you still consider yourself an underdog?
Well, I’m a small town kid from Saskatchewan, so… I mean, I don’t think I’m an underdog anymore, but I certainly began life as an underdog. The statistical possibility of me coming from a small town to working at the firm that I am and having the position that I have is almost… it’s a statistical anomaly. So I think I certainly was an underdog at one point in time, and once you’re an underdog you sort of always consider yourself a bit of an underdog.
But let me put it this way: I didn’t have the same advantages that other people had, but I did have the same opportunities. And I just always recognized that as a gift. I never really considered myself an underdog because as long as I had the same opportunity, I could always achieve as much as anybody else—even people that had more of a head start than I did. And I believe the same thing for people that are injured.
Our firm employs people with spinal cord injuries and I see what they’re capable of doing and the contributions they’re able to make to our business and to the community. And so I know that if you give opportunity, you get results.
This interview has been edited for length and content.