Inspired by Gord Engel – A Family Man
- by Lecina Hicke
This story is dedicated to the memory of our courageous friend and advocate Gord Engel, who passed away in March, 2019. In keeping with his wishes and those of his family, his story will continue to play a significant role in the Close to Home Campaign for Hospice and End-of-life Care.
To this day, I can vividly recall the day I met Gord Engel. It was almost two years ago when he stopped by our Foundation office. He had learned we were working on a hospice project, and wanted to know how he could help.
I was pleased to speak about the crucial role a hospice would play to advance end-of-life care. I remember referencing a lot of numbers: our city’s first hospice would have fifteen patient bedrooms, three patios, two dining rooms, two kitchens, one multi-faith space, one commercial kitchen. From a community perspective, on an annual basis an estimated 400 people face end-of-life in their homes and another 750 in a hospital unit not designed to support those journeying toward end-of-life. I spoke to Gord about how our community of more than 300,000 people was under-served by the 12 beds available in the only palliative care unit in the city, a unit that consistently operates at 99% occupancy.
While it was too early to make a donation to our planned hospice at that time, I promised to keep Gord informed of our progress. Just before he left, I asked him if there was anything in particular inspiring him to support this project.
Gord then hit me with his own numbers. He told me that he was 44 years old and had recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer. He and his wife, Raeleen, who had been married for 22 years, had four children, all under the age of 25. He shared that if he could do anything . . . anything at all . . . to ensure that their last days as a family were not spent in Emergency, well, he wanted to do it.
Gord’s deep commitment to his family, his honesty and his selflessness changed everything for me. I had been thinking that others would see the value of this project because the need was so clearly evident on paper. But after my conversation with Gord, I realized that stories such as his would resonate much more deeply with our community — stories by and about the people in their lives who they love, have loved and will continue to love even with their passing.
Our Foundation officially began fund raising for the Close to Home Campaign in January of 2018. Gord’s story so very clearly and poignantly described the circumstances and emotions faced by those with a diagnosis of a life-limiting illness that his story became the inspiration for conversations I began having with our community.
That unexpected early conversation evolved to trigger the largest single donation our Foundation has ever received — an astounding $6 million anonymous donation to the Close to Home Campaign. The magnitude of this donation changed the trajectory of the project, advancing our planning for the construction of the hospice and expediting our timelines toward the date of its opening.
Although as requested the giver’s identity was kept strictly anonymous, we were directed to “Please share the news of this gift with Gord and expressly tell him that someone cared enough to do everything they feasibly could to help him and his family.”
Gord was moved to tears to learn that his story could inspire such generosity. And in typical Gord fashion, he graciously began advocating for our campaign. “You know, you don’t really know what you need until you need it,” he explained. “We’ve all got a story and we all have a journey. If my story helps make a difference, I’m happy to tell it.”
And that’s how Gord Engel became the face of the Close to Home Campaign. He knew that his family was not the only family facing these issues, so he opened his heart and his home to us in the hopes of helping the many similar others who needed it: “Because hospice is not just for the person who’s dying. It’s also for the family . . . and everyone wants the best for their family.”
To our great sadness, Gord passed away on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in St. Paul’s Hospital’s Palliative Care Unit. And while he never was able to see the hospice open, he was tremendously pleased with the progress of the Close to Home Campaign and grateful to have been a part of its early days.
Gord, your story has resonated with us. We thank you for everything you have done for us. As well, we are forever grateful to your family — Raeleen, Layne, Paige, Mary and Jonah — all of whom have opened their hearts to us. We continue our promise to work hard and to inspire and help others by telling your story.
And one day, in the not-too-distant future, we will open the doors to the Hospice at Glengarda; on that day, we will look to the heavens and say “Gord, we did it!” and we know that you will be smiling down upon us.
We miss you. We remember you. And we will forever be inspired by you.