Jim Cuddy plays intimate charity gig for Roger Neilson House

Invite-only reception for children's hospice raises support for $10-million endowment fund

How do you know you've thrown a truly great party? When guests arrive early and leave late.

Such was the case at a memorable cocktail reception hosted Sunday at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata in aid of Roger Neilson House, an eight-bed pediatric palliative care hospice located on the grounds of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

The invite-only event was organized by a small group of Kanata friends and neighbours — Dave Ready and Lesley Baird, Ann Matthews, and Marisia Campbell — with delicious support from Epicuria catering and The Whalesbone. The hosts assembled a crowd of about 120, including community leaders and generous donors, on a bright and beautiful late afternoon.

Roger Neilson House
From left, Lesley Baird, Dave Ready, Marisia Campbell and Ann Matthews hosted a cocktail reception at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018, in support of the Roger Neilson House and its efforts to establish a $10-million endowment fund. Photo by Caroline Phillips

They brought in Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy as their surprise musical guest. The popular singer-songwriter played at a couple of Roger Neilson House benefits, back in 2007 and 2008. He hasn't lost his touch. He charmed and wowed the crowd while accompanied by sensational violinist Anne Lindsay. He also stuck around afterward to pose for photos with fans.

“This was really special. Like, really special,” Ottawa philanthropist Debbie O’Brien, who’d never seen Cuddy play in such an intimate setting before, told OBJ.social. “It’s like he was playing to everyone in this room.”

Roger Neilson House
Jim Cuddy, seen with violinist Anne Lindsay, was back for his third time to perform at a cocktail reception for Roger Neilson House,  a pediatric palliative care hospice located on the grounds of CHEO. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Guests included retired Ottawa Senators player Chris Neil and his wife, Caitlin, who are honourary co-chairs of Roger Neilson House. Ottawa Senators alternate captain Zack Smith and defenceman Cody Ceci also came out for the event.

Roger Neilson House
From left, Caitlin Neil, Chris Neil, Cody Ceci, Jamie Thompson and Zack Smith at a cocktail reception held at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018, to raise awareness and support for Roger Neilson House, a pediatric palliative care hospice located on the grounds of CHEO. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Marion Rattray, who's now retired but was for decades a leader in palliative care at CHEO and Roger's House, was seen in conversation with Barbara Hein. Her late husband, Roly Hein of R. E. Hein Construction, was a key player in getting Roger Neilson House built.

Kevin Keohane, chief executive of the CHEO Foundation, was there. So were Danielle Robinson, president of the Ottawa Senators Foundation, and Megan Wright, the passionate executive director of Roger Neilson House.

The facility is working toward establishing a $10-million endowment fund that will allow the home to be self-sustainable. “We’re almost there. We’re at eight million,” Wright told the room full of donors and potential donors.

Roger Neilson House
From left, Tracy Donahue, director of philanthropy at the CHEO Foundation, alongside the foundation's president and CEO, Kevin Keohane, donor Debbie O'Brien, and Jacqueline Belsito, the vice president of philanthropy, at The Marshes Golf Club on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Roger Neilson House
From left, Marion Rattray, retired nurse and manager of the Roger Neilson House, with Barbara Hein, at a cocktail reception held at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018, in support of the Roger Neilson House and its efforts to establish a $10-million endowment fund. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Roger Neilson House
From left, Elizabeth Figueroa and Peter Strom, president and CEO of March Networks, with Danielle Robinson and her partner, Wayne Mullett, at a cocktail reception held at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018, in support of the Roger Neilson House and its efforts to establish a $10-million endowment fund. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The crowd watched a well-done video involving Roger Neilson House families, staff and volunteers. They all spoke of the children's hospice, not as a gloomy and depressing place to be but as a home that offers love, laughter, memories and even homemade cookies. "Our mission is to enrich the lives of children and their families no matter how short their lives are, " said Wright.

Indeed, the story that brought goosebumps and tears to many was the one shared by Amanda and Steve Valente.

The Valentes recently lost their newborn daughter, Hope, at childbirth (they'd been made aware earlier in the pregnancy that there were abnormalities). Roger Neilson House gave them as much time as they needed to spend with their baby in the comfort and privacy of one of its suites. They made imprints of her precious little hands and feet, to have as a keepsake. Their older daughter, Faith, now eight, got to cuddle her baby sister and read her a story. Professional photos were taken. The baby was bathed. A memory box was made. All the staff came in to meet her.

“I wouldn’t change those 36 hours for anything in the world,”

It could be difficult, the parents recognized, for others to appreciate the healing benefits gained by spending quality time with a deceased baby. But, they added, those are now moments that they will never get back.

“I wouldn’t change those 36 hours for anything in the world,” said Steve Valente.

The Valentes are only sorry they were not aware sooner of Roger Neilson House and the support, services and programs it offers families. Unfortunately, they also lost their first baby, Dakota, shortly after her birth in 2009.

Roger Neilson House
From left, Amanda Valente and Steve Valente with Megan Wright at a cocktail reception hosted for Roger Neilson House at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Roger Neilson House
Co-host Ann Matthews is seen with well-known Ottawa philanthropist Shirley Greenberg at a cocktail reception held at The Marshes Golf Club on Sunday, September 16, 2018, to raise awareness and support for Roger Neilson House, a pediatric palliative care hospice located on the grounds of CHEO. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The centre was named after Roger Neilson to honour the legacy of the Hockey Hall of Fame coach and Order of Canada recipient, who died in 2003.

“Most of all, Roger was a great humanitarian,” Ready, who used to be president of the Ottawa Senators Foundation and, before that, a vice president with the CHEO Foundation.

“I remember doing an interview just after we announced [the pediatric palliative care hospice] and the reporter asked: Where are you in the process? My answer was: We have no money, we have no land, we have no building and we have no one to operate it but, other than that, we’re in great shape.

“But, we did know where to turn and, of course, that was to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, who embraced the idea. They gave us the land. They gave us the expertise and they provided the people to run it.

“It was also embraced by the community. The community as a whole got behind Roger’s House and it was built with love and passion.”

Roger Neilson House first opened its doors in 2006, three years ahead of its original schedule. 

Roger Neilson House
From left, well-known volunteer fundraiser Peter Charbonneau, who serves on the board of Mitel Networks, with his wife, Joan, along with Donna Spooner and Steve Spooner, chief financial officer at Mitel Networks, at a cocktail reception held at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018, in support of Roger Neilson House. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Roger Neilson House
Lisa Chiarelli with Paul Chiarelli, president and COO of Wesley Clover International, alongside Carrie McCallum and co-host Marisia Campbell at a cocktail reception hosted for Roger Neilson House at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
Roger Neilson House
Cory Ready, a portfolio manager with BMO Wealth Management, BMO Nesbitt Burns, poses alongside Jim Cuddy and his dad, Dave Ready, who co-hosted a cocktail reception at The Marshes Golf Club in Kanata on Sunday, September 16, 2018, in support of Roger Neilson House and its efforts to establish a $10-million endowment fund. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca