Jill Rigby’s life has been filled with adventure. A former travel editor and journalist for more than twenty years, she traversed the globe on behalf of some of Canada’s top media outlets to document the extraordinary world around us. The love of her life struck at 40 - "a coup de foudre, as they say in French” - when Jill reunited with Richard, a childhood acquaintance. The cultural anthropologist shared her passion for travel and discovery. Over the next twenty-five years, they were inseparable.
After deciding to reinvent their life together outside of the big city, the couple purchased an oceanfront home on Salt Spring Island, off Canada’s west coast. It was an idyllic setting with seals, eagles and the occasional orca as neighbours. But their paradise didn’t last. In 2018, only 48 hours after a prostate biopsy, Richard passed suddenly from sepsis.
“My husband died because we were on that island in a small hospital without adequate care,” says Jill, who soon faced a cancer diagnosis herself. She decided to move back to Toronto, where she was confident of access to the care her condition required. When she boarded the plane for a house-hunting visit, she had no way of knowing she’d be unable to return to her island home.
A trip to the emergency department while in Toronto, led to a number of lengthy hospital admissions for increasingly debilitating cancer complications. The experience did not break Jill’s indomitable spirit, but she recognized that her life trajectory had changed. “That’s when I started to wonder about my death,” she says. “I realized I did not want to die in a lot of pain, in a morphine haze. I wanted to die with some integrity.”
She consulted with family members and close friends about the end-of-life experiences of people she’d known over the years. One name kept coming up. After reading up on the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care, Jill decided they were “a good match.”
Embracing a different sort of beauty
Jill’s appreciation for the Latner Centre’s care team is profound. “There’s no greater gift than having people around you with such compassion, empathy and kindness,” she says. “It is an extraordinary comfort. This level of care isn’t widely accessible, especially in other places in Canada. I know how fortunate I am.”
That’s one of the reasons why, during a conversation with the Centre’s Director, Dr. Russell Goldman, Jill mentioned she would like to give back to the Centre. “When he told me about the Dr. Larry Librach Mount Sinai 100 Chair in Palliative Medicine, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.” Determined to personally see the gift through, Jill had the paperwork moving within a matter of hours. Her generous philanthropic contribution, via the K. Jill Rigby and Richard G. Meech Foundation, will support the Centre’s leadership in palliative medicine research and clinical innovation.
“Part of the reason I gave a gift is because I understood that this wasn’t something that was just going to help people in Toronto,” says Jill. “This has much farther reach and will help palliative care in general. I consider it a gift to be able to give to something like this; it was one of the clearest things I have ever done in my life.”
From a woman who has viewed the world from Mount Everest basecamp, it’s a striking testament to the inspiration that moved her. “The physical, mental and emotional test of high altitudes brings an unequalled, indescribable beauty,” she explains. “But there’s another kind of beauty to be found in care providers with big hearts, the people in hard jobs who show humanity.”
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