This is part of The Globe and Mail's in-depth look at the evolution of philanthropy. Read more from the series here.
Among the great many things the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty learned last winter while lying on a Montreal General Hospital bed – about brain trauma, about fear, about himself – was a lesson in his own family's history.
It turns out his paternal grandmother Theresa, who was born in Montreal, worked at the same institution as a young woman, employed as an operating-room nurse. ("It's too small a world," Pacioretty observed.) The 22-year-old from New Canaan, Conn., had already started thinking about how to return the favour to the people and place that helped him recover from the severe concussion and cervical fracture he suffered last March when the Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara rode him into a stanchion at the nearby Bell Centre.
He joked his newly unearthed family ties helped cinch it; early next month, the Pacioretty Foundation for brain trauma treatment and research will open its figurative doors.
"The concussion topic has been a hot topic for a while. I think my injury kind of gave it more of a buzz in Canada. This summer, I was thinking a lot about it, I had told the people I was working with at the hospital as soon as I left there that if you ever need help, I'm looking to give back," he said. Mr. Pacioretty's parents were in the stands the night their son was left prone and motionless by Chara's hit, and he said his folks – father Ray owns a company that makes medals and trophies, mother Anette is an executive at IBM – have been highly involved in his nascent philanthropic venture.
The last Canadien to set up a foundation at the Montreal General, which is part of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), is former team captain Saku Koivu.
After undergoing successful treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the hospital in 2001, Mr. Koivu, a former teammate of Pacioretty, decided to raise $8-million to pay for advanced diagnostic machinery for the General's cancer centre.
The Pacioretty Foundation will help raise money for a new functional magnetic resonance imaging unit (or fMRI) and will also support the research efforts in a new brain injury project that falls under the purview of the MUHC's research institute and its director, Dr. Vassilios Papadopoulos, a leading authority on degenerative neurological conditions.
The brain injury centre was on the drawing board before Pacioretty's injury, and he quickly asked to get involved.
Pacioretty said the project has already hired a prominent researcher – who, irony of ironies, was recruited in Boston – and the doctor in question will be introduced at a kickoff news conference on Nov. 7.
"Now that I've played a couple of years and I'm getting a little older and more mature, I realize how important it is to give back and it's a special thing to be able to do," he said.
The Habs' team physician, Dr. David Mulder, has long-standing ties to the hospital and was instrumental in getting Pacioretty involved, as was the Montreal General Hospital Foundation's president, Ronald Collett, the man who worked with Koivu to set up his trust.
"[Pacioretty]directly expressed his interest in doing something similar, we had met when he was initially here for treatment," Collett said. "A high-profile person like a hockey player reaches a wider audience, certainly, but above all this is an act of personal and public generosity, and that's the key thing."
The Pacioretty Foundation will work along similar lines to Koivu's: It will be administered by the MGH Foundation, which has strict governance guidelines; the body will also solicit and accept donations.
It has considerable experience in the matter: The foundation has raised $136-million since 1999, and its board directory is a who's who of Quebec Inc., with names such as Desmarais, Birks and Molson (the brewery clan that also happens to own the Canadiens).
According to Pacioretty, one major donor has already stepped forward – he declined to say who – and there is already more than $1-million in the kitty.
He will also be making sizable contributions of his own – last summer Pacioretty signed a contract that will pay him $3.25-million over the next two years – and joked that he'll make himself available for any corporate arm twisting that may be required to secure more donations.
"We haven't done too much of that yet, but I imagine I'll be calling a few business people on Nov. 7," he said.