Adopted daughter, dynamic single, corporate social responsibility pioneer, friend to hundreds. Born Oct. 25, 1950, in Belleville, Ont. Died Feb. 25, 2012, in Calgary of breast cancer, aged 61.
“I have had a fabulous life!” So wrote Hazel at the beginning of her own obituary, which went on to relate how her teenaged parents gave her up for adoption to Grace and Jack, who later also gave her a brother and a secure upbringing in Ontario.
Much of Hazel's adult life was spent in Calgary, working for 30 years in the oil patch. She was known by her colleagues at Petro-Canada as a tireless worker who often had to be told to go home, where her beloved cats were there to greet her. Much of her work was in the area of corporate social responsibility: involvement in community initiatives addressing poverty and health care and supporting education, the arts and amateur sports.
She was so effective in her role that the Hazel Gillespie Community Investment Leadership Award was created on her retirement in 2009 to honour her many achievements. Although Hazel never married nor had children of her own, she was very rich in friends, to whom she was a great giver of gifts – one of her real pleasures in life.
Hazel's biggest challenge occurred with a diagnosis of breast cancer in 1997. After a local recurrence three years later, she elected to undergo bilateral mastectomies, followed by mammoplasty. She is said on this occasion to have responded with “Thanks for the mammories” in celebration of her new figure.
Optimism characterized much of Hazel's response to people and life's challenges. This was especially evident when, after 15 years cancer-free, her disease reappeared just as she retired. A persistent cough was the first sign that cancer had reoccurred in her lungs. In her typical organized manner, she thoroughly researched her condition and pursued all possible options for regaining her health, carrying her binder of notes and questions to doctors' visits.
It was during this time that Hazel came to understand that the altruism motivating her for so long was a core Christian ethic, and so she embraced her new-found faith with characteristic enthusiasm. Her local church community became a great source of strength and comfort when it became known that the cancer was not going to be cured.
Friends she had nurtured over the years now gathered around to allow her to remain at home almost to the end. When it became necessary to move to hospice, she even organized the visits, limiting them to her closest circle, knowing that she could not bear to say goodbyes to so many individuals. She struggled against the failure to overcome her cancer, but once the way ahead became clear, she approached it with the same determination that we had come to know. She leaves each one of us with a legacy of herself that is uniquely “Haz.”
Bryan Cummings is Hazel's GP and a member of her fan club.