MONTREAL — A sombre Lucien Bouchard recalled the compassionate care his former wife Audrey Best received at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) Segal Cancer Centre in her final months.
Best, 50, died at the JGH last January after a three-year battle with breast cancer.
The former premier was an honorary patron, along with McGill University chancellor Arnold Steinberg and retired senator Leo Kolber, of a Nov. 16 gala fundraising evening and celebration of the centre’s fifth anniversary.
In a recorded video message, Bouchard thanked the centre for the treatment of Best and the support it gave to him and their two sons, then 21 and 19. With unusual frankness, he described the shock of his former wife’s diagnosis and the difficult years that followed. He is grateful for the humanity shown to him and his sons during a “most vulnerable” time. Best spent 17 days at the JGH before she passed away.
“We are fortunate to have one of the best hospitals in the world in Montreal,” Bouchard said, at the black-tie event held at Windsor Station and attended by 650 guests. A total of $1.5 million was raised, said Annette Goldman, event co-ordinator for the JGH Foundation.
The family of another famous Quebecer, the late folk singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, also expressed appreciation for the treatment she received at the centre. McGarrigle died in January 2010 at age 63 of clear-cell sarcoma, a rare cancer.
Her sister, Anna, with whom Kate sang as a duo for some 40 years, related that Kate was referred to the Segal centre by a friend after the disease she had suffered from since 2006 metastasized.
They met the centre’s Dr. Gerald Batist in late 2007 and, although her sister could not be cured, Anna said the “not too invasive” protocol he and his team devised, she believes, extended Kate’s life.
Not only did she have more years, but it was quality time in which she was well enough to work and travel. In fact, Kate performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall just six weeks before her death. Most important of all, her sister’s indomitable spirit remained intact, Anna said.
“We left the Segal not feeling we had come from another medical appointment, but from a visit with friends,” she said. “Dr. Batist and his team made being sick, not a pleasure, but bearable.” Anna, along with Kate’s daughter Martha Wainwright, and Anna’s daughter, Lily Lanken, performed a few of Kate’s favourite songs at the gala.
The centre, located on five floors of the JGH’s E Pavilion, takes a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to cancer care, from prevention and diagnosis to medical treatment and palliative care, as well as psychosocial support. It’s also a research facility, conducting both fundamental inquiry and clinical application.
The audience also heard moving testimonies from patients, many of them younger people, who praised both their medical treatment and the hope the centre’s professionals gave them.
The honoree of this “Tribute to Life” was Alvin Segal, who established a major endowment that made the creation of the centre named for him possible. In addition to toasting the centre’s achievements, the evening, co-chaired by his son Joel, was also a sort of belated wedding party for the elder Segal and his new wife, the former Emmelle Bedowitz, who were married two weeks earlier.
A highlight was gourmet kosher food prepared by some of the city’s top restaurant chefs. Each taking charge of a different course were Candice Mitkoff, S’Arto Chartier-Ortis, Franca Mazza, Serge Halbardier and Moe Bernoussi. Montreal’s other Segal centre, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, of which Alvin Segal is also the main benefactor, provided a troupe of spirited singers and dancers, under the direction of Elan Kunin and Lisa Rubin.
Young dancers from the Ecole Supérieure de Ballet du Québec set the elegant tone of the evening with their performance during the cocktail hour.