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Laurie Johnston donated $1-million to two Winnipeg hospital foundations that help senior citizens. (John Woods for The Globe and Mail/John Woods for The Globe and Mail)
Laurie Johnston donated $1-million to two Winnipeg hospital foundations that help senior citizens. (John Woods for The Globe and Mail/John Woods for The Globe and Mail)

Giving Back

Paying it forward, and then some Add to ...

The Donor: Laurie Johnston

The Gift: $1-million

The Cause: Winnipeg’s Misericordia and Riverview Health Centre Foundations

The Reason: To finance programs for seniors

Laurie Johnston has never forgotten the generosity his mother showed during the 1930s when desperate people looking for work came by the family’s home in Regina.

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“I can remember my mother making pots and pots of soup and serving bread and sandwiches and bologna and all of that sort of thing to these guys,” Mr. Johnston, 83, said from his home in Winnipeg. “I didn’t understand why they didn’t have work or food or a roof over their head, but I did understand that they were in a pretty bad way.”

Years later when he was struggling to find a way to pay for his final year of pharmacy studies at the University of Manitoba, he was touched by another act of generosity. A friend gave him $200, just enough for him to complete his degree. “Here, pass it along to somebody else later on,” the friend told him.

Mr. Johnston went on to a long career as a pharmacy owner, drug company executive, author and even a jazz critic.

In 1977, he quietly made plans to honour his old friend’s request to do something charitable. He set aside $80,000 that he had received for selling his small chain of pharmacies in Winnipeg. He then spent years figuring out how to invest the money, reading countless books and making more than a few mistakes. He eventually turned the initial amount into $1-million.

Mr. Johnston’s next challenge was deciding where to donate the cash. He looked at 11 possible charities and interviewed several to assess their programs. A few months ago, he made his decision. He donated $1-million to Winnipeg’s Misericordia Health Centre Foundation and Riverview Health Centre Foundation. He was impressed with Misericordia’s program to help seniors live in their homes longer, and with Riverview’s palliative care service. The donation will help expand both.

“I called this ‘Operation Gratification,’” Mr. Johnston said, referring to his 35-year donation project. “It’s corny but I knew I’d be gratified once it was done and I hope the people that receive the benefit will be gratified.”

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @PwaldieGLOBE

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