WARNING: May bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know that my father and stepmother have relocated to Livingstone, Zambia where they are creating a musical theatre program to employ local performers and generate revenue for the community [Webpage / Blog / RSS]. I am very pleased to note that they are now at the point of performing the show.

As a side project, they have also been raising money to help support the Linda West Basic School. This includes installing toilets, painting, drilling a new well, and opening a library. In addition, they have been raising donations to cover uniform and school fees for orphaned kids. What I like most about this is that they are actually there and they know these kids, plus the fact that 100% of the money goes directly to the intended recipient. Along those lines, I thought I’d share an email that my Dad sent to me a couple of days ago.

Warning: may bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.

I’m so pleased to finally introduce you to the young students who are now enrolled in Linda West Basic School in Livingstone, thanks to your sponsorship. I’m meeting next week to select some older kids and will let you know about the other two you are helping as soon as I meet up with them.

In any event, yesterday, I met all the kids being sponsored at Linda West and we handed out new school uniforms and books, pens, etc. to each child. The girls each received two dresses and the boys each got two shirts, one pair of shorts, and one pair of pants. Next week we will outfit them with shoes.

[JS] is a real sweetheart and she was thrilled to get her new dress. Notice how she is holding it out in the picture. She was eager to ask how this was all possible and couldn’t believe that she would be returning to school. I think “friends in Canada” is something she did figure out but maybe didn’t even know she had any friends in Canada until now.

[JS] is 12 years old and in Grade 5. She is what is termed a “double orphan” because both her parents have died. She currently lives with her grandfather who has been unable to pay the school fees and uniform costs. She just kept coming to school anyway and eventually the teachers just let her sit in class. Still, it isn’t the same when you don’t dress the same as the others and know you might not be able to continue. She said she likes to sing and play games. When she grows up, she wants to be a teacher or a “business lady”.

[MK] never stopped smiling after he put on his new shorts and shirt. What a beautiful face he has. How can this 11 year old be so spirited after losing both his parents at such a young age? He lives with his grandmother in Linda Compound which is close to where we live so I will see if I can find out more about his living arrangement. Most of the buildings in Linda Compound are one room cement structure often housing several children and adults. That’s the Compound where I donated soccer balls and uniforms and now see about 100 kids playing on the field every weekend.

[MK]’s teachers said he was a “keener’ and loved to read when he was in school before. I’m sure he’ll like the new library we’re opening at the end this month at Linda West. He told me he likes gymnastics and wants to be a soldier or policeman when he grows up. I’ll have to see if his dad was a cop or something.

If you write to either of these kids Marilyn and I will deliver your correspondence. If you have any specific questions about either child just let us know and we’ll find out the answers.

Thanks again for your wonderful gift.

Love you. Miss you.
DAD & Marilyn

Love you and miss you too.

Update from Africa.

Many regular readers of this blog may recall that my parents were planning to move to Zambia to launch a musical theatre program aimed at providing employment for local artists and generating revenue for the local community. Well, they’ve been there for a few months now, and a lot is going on. You can check it out at my father’s blog if you are in the mood to be inspired.

Today’s post: Water.

235 years in Canada.

Some of you may recall my answer to the question Am I a MacGregor? was

What’s the point? I am not Scottish, I am Canadian, and I am perfectly happy with that identity.

I still do not have an answer to the MacGregor question (nor have I been looking for one), but I did receive some rather interesting information regarding the past 250 years of Gregory family history thanks to some detective work done by one of my father’s cousins.

It appears that one Phillip Gregory, who was born in Cheshire, England, in 1751 was a member of the British military and arrived in Quebec in 1773. He was eventually given some land near St. Catherine’s, Ontario, on which he settled down with his wife Margaret. The Gregory clan remained in southern Ontario, mostly as farmers, for the next 5 generations (Phillip -> Barnabus -> William -> Richard -> Joseph -> Clarence). My grandfather, Clarence (who went by “Pete”), began as a farmer but later worked in a factory in St. Marys, Ontario, where my father grew up.

In short, I am a 7th-generation Canadian in a family that has lived here since nearly 100 years before Canada was Canada. That’s good enough for me.

How much good can one blog post do?

Readers of this blog will be aware that I am experimenting with blogging as a mechanism of public outreach in science. This time, I want to try a different experiment. Specifically, I want to see how much good can come from a single blog post.

Here is the story. In November, 2006, my father fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling to Africa to explore the cradle of humanity and to experience first-hand the cultural and zoological diversity to which the continent is home. Amidst the beauty of the landscape and the hospitality of the people, he was struck — as I am sure anyone who visits Africa must be — by the tragedy of poverty and disease (especially malaria and AIDS) juxtaposed with a tangible sense of happiness and hope.

My father has spent most of his life helping others. A social worker by training, he has dedicated much of his career to protecting the rights and dignity of the mentally challenged. This has included efforts to move as many people as possible out of (often horrific) institutions and into dignified group home environments. He has also developed programs to assist individuals with mental difficulties in returning to post-secondary education, and most recently has worked to train a new generation of social work students. In light of this, it comes as little surprise to me that he felt compelled to help the people he befriended in Africa.

My stepmother is equally generous. In her capacity as a gifted singer, musician, and teacher, she has devoted herself over the past decade to creating community choirs for both children and adults in the small town in which they live. The effects that this has had on the confidence and sense of community of the participants is remarkable.

The next phase in their lives will involve the most ambitious endeavour that either has attempted. In six months, they will be selling their house, resigning from their current jobs, and moving to Livingstone, Zambia.

While there, they will work to revamp the local Victoria Hall and to create a musical theatre program showcasing the traditional song and dance of Zambia. This is intended to capitalize on the rapidly growing tourism industry in the Livingstone area (which is less than 10km from Victoria Falls) and will provide a self-sustaining source of income for local performers and tradespeople. It will also be used to inject funds into the Livingstone economy and to improve the desperate conditions of the local hospital and schools.

The Victoria Hall in Livingstone, Zambia.

The mission statement of the project is described as follows:

Mission Statement:

The Livingstone Performing Arts Foundation (LiPAF) mission is to create and perform traditional and original works of music, song and dance which reflect the history, culture, languages and ethnic background of Zambia. Operating as a not for profit organization, LiPAF will enrich the community by providing opportunities for employment, sponsorship of a variety of needy programs and services, and educational programs on topics related to the human condition.

Objectives of the Project:

  1. To operate a not-for-profit Foundation.
  2. To promote the rich cultural diversity existing in Zambia and the Kavango-Zambezi region.
  3. To promote the city of Livingstone, the country of Zambia, and the region of Kavango-Zambezi, as a tourist destination.
  4. To provide employment for local residents.
  5. To raise funds for the sponsorship of various community projects
  6. To assist in the promotion and expansion of the service related industry (restaurants, merchants, etc.).
  7. To cooperate with other community-based groups within the Livingstone district.
  8. To improve and enhance the educational aspect of the city library.
  9. To provide music programs in local schools.
Plans for the redesigned Victoria Hall.

I should emphasize that this is an independent, non-profit project. It is not being carried out with any expectation of personal reward (in this life or any other). It is simply an attempt by two phenomenal people to make a difference by applying their talents to benefit others in need.

So far, they have been hard at work coordinating with local and federal governments in Zambia and generating funds to pay for the project through fund raising events and by making countless presentations to local service clubs and other organizations. They have been tireless in these efforts, but of course they cannot do it alone.

The question I posed as the title of this post is “How much good can one blog post do?”. I am hopeful that the answer will be a resounding “A great deal!”. There are many ways to help.

  • Maybe you run a blog and can draw attention to this post and to the Livingstone Performing Arts Foundation website.
  • Maybe you can inform your colleagues, friends, and family members about this post and the foundation website.
  • Maybe you are a teacher and your school is throwing out old textbooks, dictionaries, or atlases that could be given to the local elementary/high school.
  • Maybe you can help to provide the school with other necessities such as science equipment. I am planning to visit and to teach some basic biology classes, but the school barely has desks, let alone microscopes.
  • Maybe you work in the performing arts industry and can help with the acquisition of sound or lighting equipment.
  • Maybe you’re an artist and could donate some of your work to be used in a fund raising auction.
  • Maybe you work for a charity, shipping company, or other organization that would be interested in assisting the program logistically or financially.
  • And of course, you can make a personal donation in any sum. I have set up a PayPal account for them to receive donations. The donation is not tax-deductible as the foundation is registered as a not-for-profit organization in Zambia, but 100% of it will be put to use in support of the project. See also their 100 from 500 Club, in which there is a chance to win some great prizes donated by artist friends.

The motto that they have adopted, a quote from Margaret Mead, is “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I will miss my parents when they go, but I can do no other but admire and support their decision to do so.


It took some doing, but I have been able to format the video presentation that they have been giving to local organizations for posting here. It’s meant to be shown on a projection screen, but I think the text is legible even at this size. This really sets the stage for what they are trying to do, and has a very positive message overall with an emphasis on the beauty of Zambia.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed
already — every little bit helps!

To find out more, please visit the Livingstone Performing Arts Foundation website and blog.


A sincere thank you to Pharyngula, ERV, Sex, Genes & Evolution, Aetiology, A Block Around the Clock, Eye on DNA, ScienceRoll, Evolution Space, and BrummellBlog for posting links.

Am I a MacGregor?

The name “Gregory” is used as both a first name and a surname, and I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said “No, your last name” after I told them my name was “Gregory”. Jokes about having two (actually, three) “first” names have been a staple in my life as well.

There have been 16 popes with the name “Gregory”, including Pope Gregory I (“Gregory the Great”, which, had it not been taken, would have been a nickname I would have aspired to myself; he can keep “Saint Gregory”). Think “Gregorian calendar” (Pope Gregory XIII) or “Gregorian chants” (though these are probably not actually a product of Pope Gregory I). Readers with a snarkier side may consider this blog an example of “Gregorian rants” if they so desire.

There are many derivatives of the name “Gregor”, of which “Gregory” is one. It appears to date back to the Latin “Gregorious” and the Greek “Gregorios”, meaning “alert, watchful, or vigilant”. When my father and stepmother were in Greece, they were often told that they had a “very good Greek name”. Other languages have their own versions as well.

When I was living in the west end of London (specifically, the “London Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames“), I would have my hair cut by a fantastic old-school barber, an ex-merchant marine who lived in a long boat on the Thames and who did the final trim on one’s neck with a straight razor. On my first visit, he remarked that I “must have Scottish blood”. The reason, apparently, had to do with my thick hair and reddish goatee. “What’s your surname?” he asked. “Gregory,” I replied. “Well there you go,” he said.

You see, the other, more circuitous origin of the name “Gregory” is via the Scottish Clan MacGregor (meaning “son of Gregor”, and thus linked back to the Latin/Greek origin). It seems the MacGregors ran afoul of King James VI, who made bearing the MacGregor name a capital offence in 1603. You may be familiar with subsequent adventure involving the “Scottish Robin Hood”, Rob Roy MacGregor, as portrayed on screen by Liam Neeson (who is not a Scottish folk hero at all, but a Northern Irish Jedi).

When given the choice between changing their names or being executed, most MacGregors opted for the former. The resulting names, which numbered more than 100 and of which Gregory was one of the more obvious, became septs of Clan MacGregor. The ban on the name MacGregor was lifted in 1774, but the division into different septs remains.

Today, my fellow DNA Network member Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist reports on an effort by the Clan Gregor Society to use DNA to reunite the Clan MacGregor.

The idea of the MacGregor DNA Project is to draw comparisons to a genetic profile from a known descendant of the chief’s line (known only as “kit 2124”). Anyone who shares 31 out of the 37 DNA markers with this individual will be given full membership in the Clan Gregor Society, regardless of current surname. Gregory is one of a few surnames focused on explicitly as part of the project.

The project primarily is making use of Y-chromosome loci, which would mean that only descendants related through their father’s side would register. It appears that some mitochondrial DNA analysis is also being conducted, which would identify individuals related through descent on their mother’s side.

As per the old tradition in our society, I received my surname from my father and, as per the old tradition in biology, I also received my Y chromosome from him. In other words, it would be perfectly feasible for me to take the test and see if my red beard is homologous to that of Rob Roy.

But really, what’s the point? I am not Scottish, I am Canadian, and I am perfectly happy with that identity. Moreover, like a great many North Americans, I represent a mixture of many different families: Gregory, Davis, Sager, MacKenzie, and who knows what else (though I confess that the ingredients here are pretty limited in their variety, coming as they all do from the British Isles). It’s really only because of a quirk of our culture that I associate almost exclusively with Gregory.

Still, it would be pretty cool to wear an official clan tartan…