Tom Cochrane Honours His Dad By Participating In Parkinson's Fundraiser

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Musician Tom Cochrane lost his father to Parkinson’s disease and calls it “a cause near and dear to my heart.” The Canadian Hall of Fame rocker is the headline act and main attraction at the Shake It Up for Parkinson's benefit concert, this Friday (Sept. 6) at Toronto’s Capital Event Theatre. The fundraiser is designed to help fund research in the battle against Parkinson’s disease.

“My dad succumbed to the ravages of the disease,” Cochrane tells Samaritanmag. “He was diagnosed in his early ‘60s, and it was devastating to watch a really vital human being become ravaged and undermined by it in terms of his psychological strength. In the back of my mind, my involvement in this event is something of a tribute to my dad as well.”

Parkinson’s is "a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that belongs to the group of conditions called motor system disorders. PD cannot yet be cured and sufferers get worse over time as the normal bodily functions, including breathing, balance, movement, and heart function worsen,” it states on

The disease is caused by the slow deterioration of the nerve cells in the brain, which create dopamine. Dopamine is a natural substance found in the brain that helps control muscle movement throughout the body. An estimated 100,000 Canadians are living with Parkinson's.

The Shake It Up event will feature performances by Cochrane, acclaimed singer/songwriter Marc Jordan, and female folk duo Dala, plus an appearance by Olympic Games kayaking gold medallist Adam van Koeverden, who will be auctioning off a one-of-a-kind handcrafted canoe by Marc Russell of Gull Lake Boat Works (see video below), and whose father has also been diagnosed with Parkinson's.


The ticket price of $300 and the auction means the event has the potential to raise a significant figure. The website for the event states that "the financial goal of the event is to raise over $100,000," but Cochrane estimates a figure of $300,000 (or more) as a possible fundraising total. And Toronto businessman Bill Holland, executive chairman of CI Financial Corp, has pledged to match the amount raised.

“Because Bill Holland will match it, it’s important for us to maximize the net of the event,” says Cochrane. “Tickets have been going fast, but there are still some left.” 

The beneficiary of Shake It Up will be the Morton & Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Centre at Toronto Western Hospital. Led by Dr. Anthony Lang, the Centre is recognised as a world leader in research on and treatment for Parkinson's.

The work of Toronto Western Hospital also has a special resonance for Cochrane. "My wife [Kathy] was saved by the Hospital. She'd probably be dead right now if it wasn't for her brain aneurysm operation carried out there by Dr. Wallace," he explains.

Cochrane has long been known for his willingness to donate his time and talent to a wide range of worthy causes from World Vision to Make Poverty History. In fact, at The Juno Awards earlier this year, he received the prestigious Allan Waters Humanitarian Award for his long history of charitable commitment.

Cochrane’s commitment to the Parkinson's cause is also a long one. Back in 2001, he wrote the song “Just Like Ali,” inspired by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, a long-time Parkinson’s sufferer, and his father. On his website, he describes the song as "about inspiration — how our heroes inspire us then we pass that on — like a torch and nothing can really defeat the spirit, not even Parkinson's. I dedicate this song to my Dad and Ali." 

He donated proceeds from the song to the Parkinson Society Canada, and, on October 20th 2002, Cochrane was amongst those paying tribute to Ali in person at a fundraising event at a Toronto Argonauts game at SkyDome. Proceeds from that event benefited Parkinson Society Canada and Parkinson's research at the University of Toronto. As fate would have it, Tom's father Tuck, a former bush pilot, died a month later.

Subsequently, Cochrane assisted Parkinson Society Canada by serving for three years (2005-2007) as National Honourary Chair of SuperWalk for Parkinson's, the Society’s major annual fundraising event. "As a celebrity you are rather a figurehead, but I also did the Walk with Harry a couple of years ago, incognito, and that was kind of cool,” he says.  2012's Parkinson SuperWalk raised $3.24 million and this year's event takes place across Canada on Sept. 7 and 8.

It was a personal pitch by Cochrane and key event organizer (chairman of the committee) Harry McMurtry that convinced Holland (whose father is living with Parkinson’s) to support Shake It Up. McMurtry is a long-time close friend of Cochrane’s, the singer explains.

“Harry has been a lawyer and adviser for us. By coincidence, shortly after my father died, Harry was diagnosed with Parkinson’s too [in 2002]. He is the focal point of a lot of this for me. He's such a courageous and cheerful man, and he inspires me a great deal. When you see people like Harry and Michael J. Fox [who has long battled Parkinson’s], you can't help but be inspired by their positivity. They’re showing courage in fighting for freedom against this disease for everybody else that might get it in the future. How can you not rally behind them?"

McMurtry has received treatment at the Morton & Gloria Shulman Centre, and Cochrane has observed its results up close. "Harry had deep brain stimulation [a neurosurgical procedure] there and it has helped his condition quite a bit. That wasn't available when my dad was diagnosed. Are they closer to a direct cure? Probably a lot closer than they were 20 years ago, but there is still so much more to learn. The work continues and we can't just let it slide."

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