From a Pot of Plain Water

Small acts, well intentioned, can change the world

George Millar says he once lived his own version of the classic story of ‘Stone Soup,’ in which a community comes together and shares what little they have, eventually creating a rich, nutritious soup to be shared by all.

He was teaching in a rural village in Tanzania, in 2013, when he says the power went out. “What was I to do with a fridge full of vegetables that were going to spoil?” he says in his lilting Irish accent. He invited everyone in the village to come to his place for soup. He borrowed a huge pot from the school kitchen, half filled it with water and put it on his charcoal stove. Women and children gathered around. “My student took a sip of the ‘soup’ as it simmered,” says Millar, who had a 40-year career teaching English, drama and art. “He spat it out. ‘It’s only water!’”

But then each child came and put a handful of veggies in the pot. Some women went home and brought bones, dried fish, seasoning and spices. The soup was ready to cook. “We sang every song we knew for most of an hour,” Millar says. “You Are My Sunshine, Hakuna Matata, I’m H-A-P-P-Y, until we were hoarse and hungry.” Then, his student came again and tasted the simmering broth. “He shouted, ‘It is soooo good,’” Millar says. “Every evening thereafter, at 7:00 pm, someone left some fruit, ugali, rice or home cooking at my door. I never saw who left the gifts.” With a big smile, he declares, “That turned my life around.”

For Millar, the notion that a small act of goodwill can snowball into something great has enriched his life. Take, for example, his backyard. It started as a builder’s waste site 29 years ago; now, it’s a self-seeding garden that he only waters a handful of times a year that has sprouted into a sprawling suburban Eden.

Millar is bringing that same philosophy to the creation of the George Millar Fund, which he seeded with a $10,000 gift to Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) and a will intention. The fund is designed to help young people overcome barriers to education. Millar has been a supporter of ECF ever since his daughter, acclaimed violinist Maria Millar, was supported through The Juilliard School in New York by the Winspear Foundation (before it became part of ECF). It’s a kindness Millar doesn’t just want to remember, but to build on. And he wants the George Millar Fund to be the catalyst.

“Let’s prime the pump,” he says, describing his dream for the fund to become something much bigger than the initial splash. “Could it be that in helping somebody get that head start, I inspire them to help others exponentially?”

And like the eclectic mix of plants that fill his garden or the paintings that fill his home, Millar wants to give the fund full creative license to become whatever the community wants — or needs — it to be.

“Let the fund nourish the dream of students through the well of Edmonton Community Foundation,” he says. In the meantime, he is more than happy to keep stirring the pot, waiting to see what gets cooked up.

This article comes from the Fall 2022 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full issue.