January 26 is an important day. One year ago, James, our friend and colleague of many years passed away. When loss touches us, it kicks off “the year of firsts.” The first birthday without them. The first Christmas. The first time the year flips over to one our person hasn’t been a living part of. And a million tiny firsts in between. 

On the last day of this year of firsts, our Curious Public team is putting its love and energy for James into a new “first”: The James Bullbrook Memorial Scholarship. We wanted to do something that honours James for how we got to know him best: as a devoted dad. 

Father and son standing togetherJames (left) and Richie (right) Bullbrook

I first got to know James in this way when his son, Richie Bullbrook, was about 7. We were working together in the Ontario Premier’s office. One day, James let me know that he was really excited to see a new passion ignite in his little boy: skateboarding. My future husband, Gerhard, was a professional in action sports and had a deep passion for skateboarding himself. So I suggested the four of us meet at Ashbridges Bay Skate Park in Toronto. 

Richie and Gerhard practiced hitting stair sets, and some other basics, while James and I had a great coffee and lengthy conversation, the kind I always loved having with him. He knew so much about television, architecture, story telling, and of course politics and I always learned something from him that delighted me. He didn’t know about skateboarding though, and neither did I really. Looking back, I can see the wheels that were set in motion. 

Just short of a decade later, James and Richie dropped in at our house in Vista, CA. James was driving his son to famous skate spots in Southern California before heading up to Woodward West in Tehachapi. Their timing was serendipitous. James and Richie couldn’t know, but our family had just received the devastating news that my husband Gerhard was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer at the age of 38. The information was so fresh, we weren’t yet sure how to talk about it. So we didn’t. Our spirits that January were heavy. And then in walked the Bullbrooks, full of excitement about their trip, skateboarding, and the places they’d been so far. 

Young male performing skateboard trick in the air
Richie Bullbrook | Credit Dan Mathieu

Richie thanked Gerhard for his help that day long before in Ashbridges Bay Skate Park. He gratefully explained what a difference Gerhard’s time, patience, and care had made for him as he was discovering skateboarding. I could see how much that meant to Gerhard — especially then — to hear how he had had an influence and touched a life, and I could see how important skateboarding had become to James and Richie. They were fully involved in the community and the sport, and Richie had grown to become an incredible talent, while James took video clips and cheered. By then, James knew a lot about skateboarding. Woodward West wasn’t the first location they’d visited together, and James joked with me that the “tax” for chauffeuring Richie to camp was to make educational stops at architectural hot spots along the way. A little Woodward, a little [Frank Lloyd] Wright. 

I learned about his death while I was walking on a trail with my son, Gerhard – who is about the age Richie was when I first met him. The day James passed away, Richie had been on a skateboard trip with Canada Skateboard — the governing body for the sport of skateboarding in Canada. They helped him book last minute flights to get home in time to say goodbye. 

James and Richie shared an incredible journey together. One that taught me something about how to show up for our kids, how to support the people we love, and how to wrap it all up with passion, humility, gratitude, and sharing our interests. 

That’s why I can’t think of a better way to honour James’s memory than to help other families follow in their footsteps. The James Bullbrook Memorial Scholarship will help a kid like Richie attend Woodward Skateboard Camp in PA with a $500 USD contribution. Canada Skateboard is helping us spread the word, and Woodward PA is partnering with us to make it happen. We’re so grateful for their support, and we all hope this story reaches a family who could use it. Curious Public is going to offer it every year. And we’re going to keep thinking about James, Richie, and everyone they’ve touched every day. 

You can learn more and apply at curiouspublic.com/bullbrook-scholarship

James Bullbrook