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“I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me in my life. I’m just happy to find a way to give back to my country.”- Don Laubman on his motivation for community service
Lt. General Donald C. Laubman is a decorated Canadian Air Force veteran and one of the most celebrated Canadian pilots of Second World War. He has played a leadership role in building the reputation of the Canadian military, particularly in Europe, and has also been an effective leader in the creation of community programs enjoyed by his fellow Albertans.
Don Laubman was born in Provost, Alberta on October 16, 1921. His family lived in Camrose and Westlock before settling in Edmonton. The eldest of seven children, Don enjoyed a typical childhood that included time-honoured pursuits such as building model airplanes. It also involved a brush with legendary Alberta bush pilot, Wop May, which peaked Don’s interest in flying and led to many hours standing at the fence of the Edmonton Municipal Airport watching planes take off and land.
After high school, Don found a job at a downtown Edmonton grocery store located across the street from the Royal Canadian Air Force recruiting office. Shortly after Canada entered the Second World War, Don visited the office. Thinking that a university education was a requirement for pilots, he offered his services as a photographer. He was surprised to find that a pilot’s wings were within his grasp and signed up on December 9, 1939.
Donald Laubman was called up for active duty on Friday, September 13, 1940. His humility elicits a quiet response when he is asked if he was a natural pilot. However, his service record speaks volumes. By 1941 he was working as an instructor as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and in 1943, he was sent to the United Kingdom and assigned to 412 Squadron, 126 Wing. Squadron Leader Don Laubman and his team offered distinguished service, flying key operational missions from D Day onward. On April 14, 1945, shortly before VE Day, Don was forced to abandon his aircraft and spent the next three weeks as a prisoner of war.
Donald Laubman was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his leadership abilities, courage and devotion to duty. His aerial combat record during the war earned him the title of Canada’s fourth ranking RCAF ace.
A significant new chapter of Don’s life opened on his return to Canada in 1945. He met a group of friends who decided to celebrate the war’s end with a trip to Banff. He was walking down Banff Avenue when he met a friend’s sister who introduced him to Margaret Gibson. Don and Margie were married in 1946 and began raising a family that grew to include son Robert and daughter Leslie.
Don’s career with the Canadian Forces continued in peace time. He re-enrolled in 1946 and continued building a respected career as a pilot, serving as a founding member and Flight Commander of the famed Blue Devils Air Defence Group Aerobatics Team then as a Squadron Leader and Wing Commander. Increasingly senior postings led to an exchange with the United States Air Force in the Pentagon and service as a member of the Directing Staff of the Air Force Staff College. He was later promoted to Air Commodore at National Defence Headquarters, Brigadier General, and First Commander of Canadian Forces Europe. Don retired in 1972 as Lieutenant General and Chief of Personnel of the Canadian Forces. His approachable style and easy manner lead one associate to dub him the “most popular general in the Canadian Forces.”
Upon leaving the Forces, Don began a new career with Canadian Tire and managed stores in Thompson, Manitoba and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan before opening the first Canadian Tire store in Red Deer in 1979.
While running the store, Don found opportunities to put his leadership abilities to work for the community and played a founding role in the development of many Red Deer area service organizations. He was instrumental in founding the Red Deer and Central Alberta Crime Stoppers organization. He served as chairman of the Red Deer Crime Stoppers Board of Directors and as a board member for Crime Stoppers International. He also served as president of the Red Deer Rotary Club, board member of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, and founding board member of both the Red Deer Community Foundation and the Red Deer Regional Hospital Foundation.
As a board member and chairman of the David Thompson Health Region Foundation, Don was instrumental in helping to raise significant funds for health care programs and hospital upgrades in central Alberta. Don later served as vice chair of the inaugural board of the Lending Cupboard Society, which provides Red Deer area residents with medical equipment for home care use. Don Laubman was named Red Deer Citizen of the Year in 2005.
Don is remarkably quiet about his accomplishments. He prefers to credit his leadership and community successes to the quality of people he has been honoured to work with over the years. When asked what he values most about being an Albertan, his answer is one that befits a pilot and community visionary of his stature. His favorite thing about the province he is proud to call home is the big blue Alberta sky.