– By Patricia Paddey
When I was still a young woman in my early 20s, I heard a pastor say in a sermon that, “every person is a monument to the decisions and choices they have made.” That little piece of wisdom must have struck me as particularly profound because I scribbled it down on one of the blank pages at the front of my Bible. I’ll bet I read those words thousands of times over all the years I had that Bible; it would not be an exaggeration to say they helped shape my life.
I’ve imagined choices—large and small—as building blocks, each one the foundation for another. Lay enough good blocks, and before you know it, you’ve built something beautiful, something you can delight in, a “monument” to bring glory to God.
I thought of that image recently as I reflected on the monument that is the person of Reg Petersen, co-founder of the Bridgeway Foundation. Now in his 70s, he’s got a lifetime of decision-making behind him.
A successful businessman—married more than five decades to the same woman—he and his wife Carol raised five children and birthed a charitable foundation (with the proceeds of the sale of Reg’s business) that gives away millions of dollars annually, much of it to strengthen Canadian Christian non-profit organizations.
He didn’t have to establish Bridgeway. He could have made a different choice. He could have chosen to fund a very luxurious retirement for himself and Carol, or ensured his kids and grandkids were financially secure for life.
Where did he get the vision to do what he did? How did he find the courage and the strength to do something so counter cultural?
The answer, I believe, is that making good choices is a lifelong habit for Petersen, a habit he began early. He told me when we met in the course of researching this article that he learned much as a boy from observing the mistakes of his two elder brothers, both of whom struggled with the pressures and expectations of being pastor’s kids.
“They caused problems in the family,” Reg said. “I had the opportunity to watch them and learn from them. I learned that I can be with the crowd, but I don’t have to go along with the crowd. They never learned that.”
Tragedy would dog his siblings. “There was a lot of dysfunction, a lot of brokenness,” Reg’s eldest son Mark told me. “Dad’s the only one of his siblings who overcame that.”
He overcame it alright. Reg Petersen is a remarkable man, who has built a wonderful life. He’s still building it. (As recently as 2011, when he was 70, he completed an MBA in Management of the Growing Enterprise from Trinity Western University’s school of business.)
He’s been active in his church, his community and in politics.
These days, he’s mostly retired from providing leadership to Bridgeway (Mark runs that now) and Southbridge (a wealth management firm Reg started to fund Bridgeway, now under the direction of his son Mike).
He has time to enjoy life with his wife, his children, their spouses and his 11 grandchildren. And he has time to reflect on the life he’s built and the choices he’s made.
I’m guessing there aren’t many he’d make differently.
Patricia Paddey of Mississauga, Ont. is a senior writer with Faith Today.