The Royal's Inspiration Awards Gala nets record $469K for mental health

Annual gala honours individuals for their contributions to mental health advocacy and awareness

There’s nothing glamorous about something as lonely and isolating as mental illness – except for that one night a year when Ottawa’s business and community leaders come together to celebrate those who are breaking down stigma barriers and boosting awareness over mental health issues.

This year’s 15th annual Inspiration Awards Gala, held Friday at the Delta Ottawa City Centre, also raised a record-breaking net total of $469,000 for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

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The Inspiration Awards Gala was kept energized by a percussion performance from Kattam. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Special guests included honourary patron Margaret Trudeau, joined by her daughter Ally Kemper. Trudeau, who's been candid over the years about her struggles with bipolar disorder, is a former Inspiration Award recipient. So is mental health leader Daniel Alfredsson, ex-captain of the Ottawa Senators. He has a sister with generalized anxiety disorder.

Also in attendance were Scott McLean, senior litigator with Dentons Canada LLP and board chair of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group board, and Ernie Laporte, regional vice-president of Great-West Life and chair of the Royal Ottawa Foundation board.

For George Weber, it was his final Inspiration Awards Gala as president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. He's retiring – or, as he likes to put it, “re-wiring”. Under his 10-year leadership, The Royal has expanded its patient care and research and dramatically upped its profile in the region, the audience of 550-plus heard.

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Margaret Trudeau with George Weber at the Inspiration Awards Gala held in support of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Sara Piracha with her husband, Scott McLean, head of the board of trustees for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group and a lawyer at Dentons, with Dr. Zul Merali, president, CEO and scientific director of the Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research, with Royal Ottawa Foundation board chair Ernie Laporte and Catherine Laporte at the VIP reception for the Inspiration Awards Gala, held at the Delta Ottawa City Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Daniel Alfredsson and his wife Bibbi with Alex Taggart and her husband, award recipient Gordon Cudney, up in the Delta Ottawa City Centre's penthouse for a VIP reception held for this year's award winners and sponsors. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Margaret Trudeau with her daughter, Ally Kemper, at the VIP reception for award recipients and sponsors of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health 2018 Inspiration Awards Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The gala, present by TD, marked the first for Mitchell Bellman as president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Foundation. He took the job over nearly a year ago.

“I have learnt and experienced first-hand the intense loyalty that donors to the Royal have,” he said on stage. “Donors and leaders in mental health share one thing in common: they know someone close to them who has suffered and struggled with mental illness, and they know that the system could be better.

“At The Royal, we see thousands of people, and we help families and individuals lead better and healthy lives. But, it is the individual we can’t see or the individual we can’t help at the right time that motivates us to constantly seek ways to improve.”

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From left, Inspiration Awards Gala committee chair Jane Duchscher with Mitchell Bellman and Tara-Lynn Hughes, senior vice president with presenting sponsor TD, at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health 2018 Inspiration Awards Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Honoured this year with awards were: Emily Pierce as Youth Leader for Mental Health; Dr. Rébecca Robillard for Young Researcher; Len Reynen and Rebecca Bodnar for Personal Leader for Mental Health; Gordon Cudney for Volunteer Leader for Mental Health; Barb Nesrallah and David Gibson for Community Leader for Mental Health; and Pat Capponi for Transformational Leader for Mental Health.

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From left, 2018 Inspiration Award recipients Len Reynen, Barb Nesrallah, Pat Capponi, Emily Pierce, gala co-emcees Derick Fage and Sarah Freemark, and Inspiration Award recipients David Gibson, Rebecca Bodner and Gordon Cudney enjoy a lighter moment at this year's mental health gala, held Friday, March 2, 2018. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen of JVL Photography

Capponi, who's an author, tireless mental health advocate and Order of Canada recipient, delivered a powerful acceptance speech that earned her a lengthy standing ovation.

“We no longer believe that – once labelled – we must give up hopes for a life of value, of employment, of learning and achievement,” said Capponi, a psychiatric survivor who lived in poverty for years. “We ... believe that together we can blow away stigma and prejudice and exclusion and ensure that every one of us has the same right to a meaningful, productive life as the rest of society.”

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Louise Bradley, president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which was one of the sponsors, with Dr. Zul Merali at the VIP reception for the Inspiration Awards Gala held at the Delta Ottawa City Centre on Friday, March 2, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Award presenter Katherine Cooligan, law partner at sponsor Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG), with recipient David Gibson at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health 2018 Inspiration Awards Gala, held at the Delta Ottawa City Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Alfredsson took to the stage to present an award to his good friend Gordon Cudney, a Gowling WLG lawyer who leads The Royal’s annual charity golf tournament, serves as vice-chair of the Foundation’s board and was part of the Foundation's $25-million campaign. But even more impressive, he said, is Cudney's strength and leadership in going public with his depression.

“I can’t imagine how hard it is to do that because it is – unfortunately, with the way we’re brought up – seen as a weakness in a lot of people’s eyes,” said Alfredsson before noting how Cudney has inspired others to speak up and share their own mental health stories. 

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Award presenter Daniel Alfredsson on stage at the Inspiration Awards Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Liza Mrak, co-owner of Mark Motors of Ottawa, award presenter Leigh Harris, president of Halo Management Consulting, with fellow Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health board members Iwona Albrecht, a law partner at Soloway Wright LLP, and Marie Boivin, at the Inspiration Awards Gala held Friday, March 2, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi with his wife, Christine McMillan, and Randi Hansen with her spouse, Bob Chiarelli, Liberal MPP for Ottawa West--Nepean, at the Inspiration Awards Gala held Friday, March 2, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, former Inspiration Award recipient Patrick Dion with his wife, Raylene Lang-Dion, and Nicole Loreto, vice president of communications for The Royal, and her fiancé, Bob Mick, at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health 2018 Inspiration Awards Gala. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The dinner was emceed by fun-loving television personalities Sarah Freemark and Derick Fage, the latter of whom auctioned off a trip via Air Canada to the Swiss Alps for $9,500, as well as a group game of football with RedBlacks stars Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli at their TD Place home turf, with dinner and a tour of the team locker room, donated by OSEG.

Also up for grabs were: a private dinner for eight at The Urban Element with Chefs Katie Ardington and Richard Wilson, with music by Jim Bryson; a team-building day at Escape Manor, with some frosty pints from Tooth and Nail Brewery; and a 25-person cocktail party catered by Epicuria at Alt Hotel Ottawa.

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Derick Fage, who got his start in Ottawa before becoming host of Breakfast Television in Montreal, co-emceed with Sarah Freemark from CTV Morning Live. Photo by Caroline Phillips

For the adventurous type, there was a trip to Nunavut donated by Canadian North Airlines and Polar Outfittings. Music lovers could take in the Rod Stewart concert at the Canadian Tire Centre in a 100-level suite donated by Trinity.

There was dinner for 10 to be hosted by Swedish Ambassador Per Sjögren at his official residence in Rockcliffe, with Alfredsson as special guest. It went for $6,800. That’s because Ottawa philanthropist Barbara Crook, who bought the dinner at last year’s event but didn’t get a chance to go, donated it back. Her generosity allowed it to be sold twice, to the two top bidders.

Crook was there with her husband, Dan Greenberg, whose Accora Village rental properties was also one of the sponsors. The couple was honoured with an award last year,  presented to them by Alfredsson.

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Barbara Crook and her husband, Dan Greenberg, at the VIP reception for award recipients and sponsors of the Inspiration Awards Gala for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. Photo by Caroline Phillips

You also had to appreciate the irresistible kind-heartedness shown by Albert Lefebvre. He donated back the powder blue Vespa that he won last year (scootering around town just isn’t for him), to be raffled off again. He did the honours of drawing this year’s lucky ticket. The winner was his nephew.

“You're shitting me,” an incredulous Freeman blurted out in what became the funniest moment of the night.

Lefebvre quickly explained away the uncanny coincidence: his nephew had bought $2,500 worth of raffle tickets.

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Albert Lefebvre with the 2017 Vespa Primavera 150 ABS that he won at last year's Inspiration Awards Gala but decided to donate back to be raffled off again. Photo by Caroline Phillips

– caroline@obj.ca