April 17, 2023

Winston family gift brings thought leadership to UCalgary

New critical care medicine lecture series spurred by parents’ impact and example
The children of Arnold and Miriam Winston started a lecture series in their parents’ names
The children of Arnold and Miriam Winston started a lecture series in their parents’ names. Courtesy of the Winston family

Knocks on the door never came as a surprise. Because, the family’s home in southwest Calgary was a common meeting place for volunteers and charitable organizations’ meetings.

“Strangers would come to the house, and, after a while, they were almost like family,” says Brenda Winston. “Growing up, our house was open — it was a meeting spot.”

A meeting spot and the destination of choice for the best of intentions. Miriam Winston — wife of Arnold Winston, mother of Brenda, Brent, Barbara, Belinda, and Bruce — was a peerless leader in the pursuit of medical advocacy. Passionate and persistent, she could be counted on to take charge. For Miriam, the living room was as good a place as a boardroom to get cracking.

“We always said, ‘If there’s a worthy cause, Mom was on it.’ It was in her blood — that’s all she did,” says Dr. Brent Winston, MD, BSc’80, a professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Calgary. “There were no barriers for her. For charity work, her motto was, ‘I’m not shy about asking somebody for a donation.’ And she would do that with reckless abandon.”

Dad, too, became a factor at those impromptu get-togethers. When Miriam was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2002 for her volunteering contributions, she said she couldn’t have done it without Arnold. “Which is true,” says Brenda.

Now, to honour the indelible stamp their parents put on the medical-advocacy landscape in this country, the children are funding a lecture series at the University of Calgary.

The inaugural Miriam and Arnold Winston Lectureship is scheduled for May 10 as part of the Department of Critical Care Medicine’s Research Day. This event is made possible through the Winstons’ endowment at the Canadian Intensive Care Foundation.

A family’s passion; a lasting impact

The tribute had been no spur-of-the-moment arrangement.

For the siblings, realizing they needed to collect upwards of $100,000 to support an annual lecture series in the names of their late parents, this was a goal that required years of planning, years of contributions. They would sock away as much as they could afford. “It was a very important thing, every year, to get that money donated to the CICF,” says Brenda, who worked as an RN in North Vancouver before retirement.

Adds Brent: “I want to use this as an example to my colleagues that anybody can do this. You don’t have to be multimillionaires.”

The Winstons, throughout the undertaking, were as quiet as they were diligent.

Dr. Dan Zuege, MD, MSc’94, head of the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine, remembers one day getting a call from Brent, who laid out the details of the family’s donation.

“Totally unexpected — I had no idea they were doing this. The only words that came to mind were, ‘Thank you,’” says Zuege. “It’s an amazing tribute to recognize the commitment (their parents) had to advancing the care of the critically ill, which is something that could touch any of us one day.

“On behalf of the department, we’re profoundly appreciative of the Winstons’ generous gift.”

The opening lecture features Dr. Sangeeta Mehta, MD, who is a clinical care physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, a professor at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and an associate editor of the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia. “External speakers bring so much value to our research day,” says Zuege. “They elevate the good research that we do.”

Honouring a remarkable life

The family’s contributions to health-care initiatives have been significant and longstanding.

In 1994, Miriam began to raise money for the Canadian Intensive Care Foundation and ended up as the organization’s first executive director. “An amazing woman,” says Brenda. “Anything she decided to take on, it was like a whirlwind.”

Miriam also pushed for the expansion of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, eventually co-founding the Calgary chapter and serving as its president.

The lifetime of advocacy was highlighted by an Order of Canada investiture and Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal. Now, with the lectureship set to run in perpetuity, the kids are thrilled.

“We’re glad to see some recognition for the 65 years of work that she did — unheralded, sticking up for people — with no payback other than the satisfaction of knowing that something (positive) was happening,” says Brent. “I think she, and Arnold, would be very proud to get this recognition — although she was never one to stand up at the front and want recognition.”

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