A True Visionary

Garnet Ireland’s endowment fund means he can provide permanent, on-going support to an organization that was incredibly important to him

Fifteen years ago, Garnet Ireland first phoned Pilgrims Hospice to ask about its annual Sunflower Luncheon. Ireland wanted to attend, but he was blind and couldn’t drive. Not to worry, the administrative assistant told him. She would gladly pick him up.

The assistant inadvertently kick-started a tradition that spanned nearly a decade. Each year, a member of Pilgrims Hospice, from one of its volunteers to its executive director, drove Ireland to the Sunflower Luncheon, until his passing in 2014.

“He just so appreciated that, to be with other people,” says executive director Deb Birkett, who oversees the Edmonton non-profit organization.

Pilgrims Hospice delivers compassionate family-centred care for patients with progressive, life-threatening illnesses. Five years before he died, Garnet became a client of the Compassionate Companions program, enjoying weekly visits from one of the organization’s 100 volunteers.

Garnet and his wife Jean Ireland worked closely with Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) to plan their support for the organizations most important to them. Key to that support is the permanent endowment fund that they created at ECF and the careful planning they put into their estate and tax situation. Through making ECF the owner of a life insurance policy and through the specific terms of his will, the Garnet & Jean Ireland Fund received amazing gifts that allow that fund to provide important, permanent ongoing support to Pilgrims Hospice.

It’s a big cause to celebrate for Pilgrims Hospice. Nearly 80 per cent of its $750,000 budget comes from fundraising through donors, grants and special events.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Birkett says. “The legacy gift will really take the pressure off. We won’t have to bite our nails as much over the turnout at our next special events.”

In addition to supporting current services, Pilgrims Hospice is expanding its community programs to include hospice support for homeless clients and therapeutic bathing. Birkett smiles when thinking about Ireland and his legacy. She calls him the “little man with the big personality.”

“We became his family. We offered him the chance to remain independent a lot longer.”

Because Ireland was blind, he was very particular about his routine, Birkett says. He set up a computer to monitor stocks and had volunteers read him back the numbers. He was also fascinated with alternative medicines and “always talking about things that were outside the box.”

Ireland was a philanthropic “triple threat and an amazing man,” says Kathy Hawkesworth, ECF’s director of donor services. Some people give gifts of shares, others make “legacy gifts” through insurance or wills, others create permanent endowment support. Garnet did all of these things and more to support the charities and causes most important to him.

Life insurance is an underutilized way of giving, Hawkesworth notes. “Lots of people have insurance policies that they get when their kids are little. At some point, the original purpose of the policy is not needed. So it’s a great way to recycle and reuse an asset you already own to do something wonderful.”

If she had the chance, Birkett says she would give Ireland a big hug, hold his hand and thank him. “We’re just so grateful that he came into our lives and that we could do what we could for him because he gave so much back to us.”