Celebrating Seventy Years of Community Living Part Nine: Anne Stafford Bursary

CLO 70th Anniversary banner

by Gord Kyle

When Harvey McQuarrie died suddenly in December 1964, the movement was shocked. Harvey had been the provincial association’s president for only a few short months. He had taken the position with such high hopes of making a real change. They were exciting times. The association was in the process of helping the Canadian association raise funds for 13 national demonstration projects celebrating the upcoming Canadian centennial. Just two months before his death, Harvey and the provincial association’s Executive Director, Bill Kirk, had lead Ontario’s delegation at a national conference in Ottawa seeking federal government support for the initiative. The conference, organized by the federal Minister of Health and Welfare, the Honourable Judy LaMarsh, was a tremendous success. Commitment to the project seemed assured. By 1966, a year before the centennial, the campaign would raise $15 million ($130 million in 2023 dollars), but Harvey would not live to see it.

In his honour, the board of the provincial association struck “The Harvey McQuarrie Memorial Fund.” When they asked Harvey’s wife, Julia, for advice on what the fund should be spent on, her answer was clear: Spend the funds to advance the association’s work on preschool education and family support — things her late husband had been passionate about. Those responsible for the funds were directed to hire a project consultant to lead the work. There was only one person to consider hiring — the brilliant young woman who had wowed everyone with her work starting one of the provinces first nursery schools for children with an intellectual disability in Hamilton and chairing the provincial association’s home care committee. Unbeknownst to Harvey, his greatest contribution to the work of Community Living came as the result of his unexpected death. His memorial fund went towards hiring Anne Stafford, one of the longest-serving, and without question, the most loved staff person the association ever hired.

Anyone who ever met Anne would be unlikely to forget her. She stood out in any room she entered, and she was impossible to ignore. That is not to say she was pushy; she always made space for others and never spoke over people. She listened deeply, respecting everyone’s opinion, even when she did not agree with them. But when Anne spoke, one could not help but listen. The first thing to strike you was her wonderful Scottish accent that never diminished in all her years in Canada. Next, you realized Anne’s gift of making everyone feel important and respected. If you met Anne one time, you were most likely going to go away feeling like her best friend. But Anne was never a pushover. She stood against injustices and championed those things she thought important using all her many skills.

Like many others, I have my own story of Anne advocating on my behalf. Shortly after joining the provincial association’s staff team in 1987, I learned that I owed my hire to Anne. I had applied late for the position of employment consultant. When I was offered the position, the manager hiring me joked that I could have the job, but I would have to break it to the other candidate that he had already decided on (I later learned that he was not joking and there had been someone else lined up to take the position). What had happened to change his mind? Anne, that’s what. When she heard I had applied, she went to the manager and told him he should offer me the job — and, as usual, what Anne wanted, Anne got. The thing was, Anne and I had never met. She knew of me because of my work chairing the current employment task force of the association and from conversations she’d had with others about my work in establishing one of the first supported employment programs. Perhaps there had been an echo of her own story of being hired after chairing the home care committee that prodded her to be my champion, I don’t know. I presume that her conversations about me with her colleagues convinced her that I would be an asset to the association and so she acted to bring me in. Whatever her reason, I thank her for the confidence she showed in me – the kind of confidence she demonstrated to so many people over the years. Being hired to the provincial office, and having the opportunity to work with Anne has been one of the greatest honours of my life. 

Anne’s early years at the association aligned with one of the busiest times in our history with respect to the creation of new services.  She travelled the province endlessly, supporting local associations in their efforts to build community supports. Early childhood education centres popped up across the province, and, more often than not, Anne had a hand in their birth. She helped communities seed that ground, then grow the services that were needed to support children and parents. The local association in Sudbury even named one of their program locations the Anne Stafford Centre, in recognition of her invaluable help in its creation.

Anne played a central role in the provincial association’s work in advocating for the creation of the Special Services at Home program in 1982 with a $2 million investment. That program exists today as one of the most popular in the developmental services sector, providing families critical direct funding support. In the 2020–2021 provincial budget, the government committed to investing $70.3 million over three years in the program to support about 4,700 children in the first year and about 2,100 additional children in each subsequent year. Anne’s work from decades ago continues to assist families today.

This entire book could be dedicated to recording the work that Anne did for the movement during her nearly 30 years as an employee, and perhaps one day such a book will be written. But that is not the purpose of this book or this chapter. This is about what Anne contributed to the movement after she retired. As Anne’s inevitable retirement approached, the question arose regarding an appropriate recognition of her many years of service. A gold watch was certainly not going to cut it. Anne needed no help on the jewelry front. By that time, she was well known for her flamboyant style and was never seen in public without being elaborately garbed, hatted, and bejeweled. No, something more meaningful was called for.

On Anne’s retirement, Community Living Ontario established the Anne Stafford Light Up the Future Bursary. The bursary, started with an initial contribution by the association, provides funds to adults who have an intellectual disability for pursuing educational programs or personal interest courses or activities. It was a perfect reflection of the core idea that Anne had always adopted in her work over the years — don’t do things for people that they can do for themselves, but help them along their way.Anne committed herself to the success of the bursary, making herself available to the numerous fundraising efforts that were undertaken to grow the resources. As had always been the case with Anne, her involvement ignited people’s passion and many individuals and groups stepped up to help raise funds year after year — groups like the local association in Campbellford, who made sure for years that nobody made it out of a Community Living Ontario conference without buying a ticket for a draw to support the bursary.

Has the fundraising for Light Up the Future been the most lucrative in our history? No, not by a long shot. At the beginning of this chapter, we heard of the 1964 fundraiser that secured the equivalent of $130 million in 2023 dollars. In Chapter 8 we heard about our 1961 telethon that raise the 2023 equivalent of $2 million in 18 hours. And the granddaddy of all fundraisers was our Cash for Life Lottery, which started in 1977. By 1980 it was making so much money (more than $25 million in 2023 dollars by that time) that the government threatened to withdraw our lottery license unless we agreed to split the revenues with three other charities. By late 1982, the lottery was so successful that the government thought the funds should be spread still more broadly. It withdrew our lottery license and created the Ontario Trillium Foundation instead, with the aim of spreading lottery money raised by the Ontario Lottery Corporation more evenly among the province’s social services organizations. That foundation, built from the efforts of our association, distributed $210 million to 2,085 projects in 2022.

No, the Light Up the Future Bursary has not been our most successful fundraiser if money raised is the measure. But the bursary has far more heart than any other fundraiser we have ever undertaken and is loved and supported by many. Since its creation, more than 360 people who have an intellectual disability have received the bursary. It has created exciting possibilities and enabled people to gain the skills and confidence they need to seek out their goals.

Anne died in June of last year after a lifetime of service. She will be remembered for who she was — a vibrant, passionate woman who was a friend to all. And for those who never had the honour of meeting Anne, they will know her name because of the wonderful work that her bursary will continue to do in the future.