Out of their love and admiration for their only granddaughter, Jennifer's grandparents, Marjorie and Stewart McGill, wanted to ensure that the lessons Jennifer taught us would be passed on to others. And so the McGill Ability Fund at the Vancity Community Foundation was established. The McGill Ability Fund invites donations from persons who wish to empower disabled adults to strengthen their communities and the people who surround them.
In Memory of Betty McGill
Betty was born Mary Elizabeth McGill in Calgary, Feb 1, 1944 and died in Vancouver, May 25, 2017. She died peacefully, surrounded by love, husband and friend, at home at a beautiful time of the year! She is survived by her husband Paul and stepdaughters Heather and Pamela Robinson.
Jennifer lived with her mother Betty for her first 16 years, after which her adventuresome spirit prodded her to broaden her horizons. In 2000 she and a roommate moved into a Kerrisdale apartment managed by the Spectrum Society for Community Living, whose Mission is "to support people with disabilities to experience full citizenship and genuine belonging in their community".
Jennifer and Betty were a dynamic duo that taught us so much about living life to the fullest. You can read all about Jennifer’s explorations of every adventure you can imagine in Jennifer's Story shared below, but the way that Jennifer and Betty looked forward together was an inspiring part of their story. Jennifer had numerous health complications that occasionally put her into hospital for extended periods. But when she got out, she jumped right back into her community exploration and contribution. Beside Jennifer every step of the way was her mother Betty, supporting the adventures, encouraging Jennifer to learn, explore, experience the world.
Many thanks to the McGill family for establishing the McGill Ability Fund to support other people with disabilities to explore their communities, have new experiences, and make new friends.
Jennifer-Lynn Elizabeth McGill was an inspiration to everyone whose lives she touched. Born with Spina Bifida (a birth defect causing paralysis of the lower body), she contracted meningitis when two weeks old, following brain surgery. It left her with additional disabilities which affected her balance, coordination and mental processing. It required innumerable brain and other surgeries, but it certainly didn't dampen her spirits! She met her many challenges with determination and found creative ways to overcome them. Jennifer died in 2009 at the young age of 32.
Jennifer lived with her mother Betty for her first 16 years, after which her adventuresome spirit prodded her to broaden her horizons. In 2000 she and a roommate moved into a Kerrisdale apartment managed by the Spectrum Society for Community Living, whose Mission is "to support people with disabilities to experience full citizenship and genuine belonging in their community". That is exactly what they did for Jennifer.
Out of their love and admiration for their only granddaughter, Jennifer's grandparents, Marjorie and Stewart McGill, wanted to ensure that the lessons Jennifer taught us would be passed on to others. And so the McGill Ability Fund at Vancity Community Foundation was established. The beneficiaries of the Fund will be adults with disabilities served by Spectrum Society for Community Living. Every year, the income from the Fund will provide additional staff support, special equipment and/or pilot programs to empower these persons to enrich their lives and those of the wider community.
Jennifer taught us many things. She lived an active life, engaging with a broad spectrum of persons in her community . She loved music, singing in church and community choirs. She and a staff member braved the Merritt Mountain Music Festival and "had a blast". Who knows what effect she had on this diverse group! She participated in many sports-swimming, sailing, skiing, Little League baseball. She went on the Sunshine Foundation's "Dreamlift to Disneyland", travelled to Hawaii with her Mum and stepdad, and twice escaped to Las Vegas, supported by a caregiver. And on each of these occasions she impressed strangers with her courage and upbeat spirit-a bride and groom in Vegas even invited her to join their wedding brunch!
Jennifer loved the out-of doors, and took every opportunity she could to be close to nature. She and Betty had a wilderness cabin on Pitt Lake which was only accessible by water. Travelling by canoe, or later riding on a barge in her power wheelchair, she then made her way up the trail to the cabin as best she could. Up to age eight it was packing on her mother's back. After that she walked the 1/4 mile with crutches and braces, taking an hour to complete the journey and splashing in every puddle! Latterly she revved up her power wheelchair and bounced up the trail. She learned to canoe and loved to go up the Widgeon Creek Wildfowl Preserve in search of herons and beavers. Her enthusiasm inspired other disabled persons to take up canoeing-"Your balance is worse than mine, Jennifer, so if you can do it so can we".
Jennifer's participation in society required considerable assistance, but this, in turn, enabled her to contribute actively to the lives of others. She learned sign language to communicate with her hearing-impaired friends. She was a dedicated volunteer for Meals on Wheels. At age 10, she walked the five-mile Peace Walk with braces and canes. At age 18, she wheeled her power wheelchair to support spinal cord research. A grateful recipient of support from the Variety Club and BC Children's Hospital, she faithfully watched their telethons every year, making her spending money donations and phoning friends and family to remind them of their responsibility to do likewise.
She was a party animal, the Energizer Bunny at the Douglas Park Social Club for young adults with disabilities. Every Saturday she travelled from Kerrisdale to Granville Island in her power wheelchair to meet friends, vendors and complete strangers (but nobody was a "stranger" to Jennifer for very long). Starbucks was her favorite hangout. Even as she was dying she insisted on going there, ploughing through the snow drifts and "laughing all the way" before collapsing in pain and exhaustion.
Persons who live with significant disabilities have much wisdom to share with those of us whose challenges are less visible. When persons with disabilities are empowered to live life to the fullest, our whole society benefits from their courage, compassion, empathy and generosity. What better tribute to a cherished daughter, granddaughter and friend than to provide a vehicle for others to continue her legacy?
When Jennifer's terminal diagnosis was made, she wanted to die in her beloved apartment amidst her friends and caregivers. Not only did Spectrum procure a hospital bed; one of the managers went out in the evening and bought bright pink and purple sheets, pillowcases and a lovely turquoise quilt to brighten her room and her spirits. Not only did the new bedding comfort Jennifer; it also made it easier for her friends to enjoy their final visits with her.
Jennifer's compassion touched many persons. Illness and death were a an ever-present facet of her life. She loved to visit those who were ill, and ministered to friends and strangers who were dying. She understood how medically fragile her own health was. She accepted her own final journey with grace, and gave strong support and wisdom to her family and friends as they faced her passing. Tributes following her death spoke of how much she taught others through her courageous ability to live fully in the present. "She didn't ask 'why me?' questions; she accepted the challenges which life presented to her and asked 'why not?' ".