I am not exactly sure when I first met Dave Kelso, but I can pretty easily guess where.
It would have been in a photographer’s studio in downtown Toronto, probably in the 1980s. At the time he was a hip, young creative director for one of the big ad agencies in town. It was his job to dream up and then oversee splashy print campaigns for breweries, for automobile manufacturers, for telecommunications giants, for multinational sporting goods companies.
He often worked closely with photographers – with the ones he liked, at any rate. And I was a freelance writer who had figured out that photographers and creative directors were usually more fun to hang out with than other writers.
I can even make a pretty safe guess about what Dave Kelso was wearing. A slim, dark suit. A white shirt, with one button undone at the neck. A narrow, three-quarter-mast tie. And running shoes. It was a look that was stylish then, but that also happened to express his personality. In fact, it so suited his frenetic combination of courtesy and irreverence that he yanked it from the parade of passing fashion and kept it as his own.
In the words of the Blues Brothers, we are on a mission from God.
It’s what he wears to this day. It’s what he’s wearing now as he paces the office of ALZlive.com. A media platform devoted to the family caregivers of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is not the kind of project you might expect to be developed by someone who more or less talked his way into the advertising business and, at 43, became the chief creative officer of the largest ad company in Canada. But that is what ALZlive.com is, and Dave Kelso has thrown himself into it. Thrown himself in, I might say, with an almost reckless passion.
And it’s something I can say, frankly. I’m the editor of ALZlive.com, and from where I sit, perched at a high table in the centre of ALZlive.com’s east Toronto, loft-like office, it’s hard to miss what is the most obvious fact about the place: everyone here is here because Dave Kelso is so fervently and persuasively committed to ALZlive.com.
That’s why he created it – with the same energy and marshalling of talent with which he once addressed the marketing needs of General Motors or Labatt’s beer, or Nike. That’s why he nurtured it, on his own nickel, through its start-up of borrowed workspace, prototype development, and sweet-talked contributors last winter. That’s why, while watching the number of its daily hits steadily rise, he leased an office in the old Wrigley Building in Toronto’s Leslieville area.
He hooked up wi-fi, installed counters, ordered stationery, bought a printer. He moved in work tables, office chairs, couches, an espresso machine, and refrigerator. He hired his staff.
And that’s why Dave Kelso meets so relentlessly with experts, advisors, consultants, and with potential advertisers, potential partners, and potential sponsors. That’s why he can’t stop posting his scrawled objectives and schedules and game plans and story ideas on the office walls that surround his work station.
The truth is I wasn’t a great caregiver. If I’d known as much about the disease as I know now I would have acted differently.
That’s why he paces.
“In the words of the Blues Brothers,” he announces to the pool of editors, young writers, web designers, social media consultants, and techies who work within earshot of his squeaking running shoes, “We are on a mission from God.”
Dave Kelso’s mom, Betty, died of Alzheimer’s. That statement, brief and bald as it is, is a pretty accurate explanation of the origins of ALZlive.com. As is probably the case with most of the 20 million people in Canada, the United States, and Mexico who are looking after mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, and friends with dementia of one sort or another, Dave Kelso was unprepared for his role as one of his mother’s caregivers.
“The truth is I wasn’t a great caregiver,” Kelso explains. “If I’d known as much about the disease as I know now I would have acted differently. And that’s a big reason why I’m doing this. I want to make sure that other folks don’t find out too late what they could have done. I want them to know now, while their loved one is still alive.”
Dave Kelso’s father, a retired government employee and ex-choirmaster, had been a well-known counter-tenor and soloist in the Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo areas when he was in his musical prime. But John Kelso had been his wife’s primary caregiver for 15 years when, at 75, he died.
“These weren’t adjustments in my life,” Kelso says. “These were life changers.” His mother died three years later.
What is unusual about Dave Kelso is that these family difficulties didn’t only have a profound impact on his domestic life. They transformed his professional life, as well. The marketer in him still loves to connect with the public. And he remains a communicator, equally aware of the value of written clarity and good graphic design. But being a caregiver made him realize that something was missing. His own experience taught him that what caregivers desperately need is a single site where they can find information, guidance, news, comfort, and advice.
So Dave Kelso made it his job to invent it.
About the author