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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.