Over the past few months I have gotten to know Rina Fisher, a wonderful woman whose family is still in mourning just over a year after a beautiful daughter and sister Jackie passed away, following a lengthy battle with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and primary peritoneal carcinoma, a rare cancer, especially in young adults. Jackie Fisher was only 25 years of age.
Fourteen years ago, it was Rina, her husband Larry, Jackie and their eldest daughter Rachel who launched the first ever Montreal gala fundraiser for the organization, which is today known as Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. The event has grown over the years. Last year, $250,000 was raised for research into Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Co-chairs Erin Battat and Marian Sniatowsky decided to stay on in their roles and while the tragic loss of Jackie was still very recent, they approached the Fishers about honouring their daughter posthumously. Not only did they accept, but the family worked tirelessly to produce the most successful local gala ever. On April 4 more than 500 people – nearly double the 2015 total- filed into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Via a private anonymous donation secured by Larry Fisher and proceeds from the event (ticket sales, sponsorship and silent auction), $1 million was raised. This incredible sum of money will be devoted, as always to research and to the “Make it stop. For Life” campaign. In addition, this year, a portion of the proceeds will be allocated to the establishment of the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Jaclyn Fisher Education Fund.
There was not a dry in the house after emcee Mose Persico of CTV Montreal, who also suffers from IBD, introduced an extraordinary 10 minute video which even included Jackie’s lovely voice. “To the fortunate of us who had the privilege of knowing Jackie, each one of us carries a little of her in us - her smile, her bubbly personality, her quirkiness and her loving gentle soul,” said Persico.
The video featured photos of her life, with comments from her family, friends, university contacts, medical professionals, Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz and Persico, whose face was flooded with tears when he came back on the stage. Jackie was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease just before her 10th birthday. Throughout her illness, she made it a mission to raise funds into research to the disease and bring about awareness. She has left such an incredible legacy, from this gala in her memory to an active youth group now called 'Generation C,' which she started. Despite her health battles, she thrived at Hebrew Foundation, Herzliah High School, Marianopolis College and McGill University.
Honourary chairs for the event were the Right Honorable Senator Leo Kolber and Roni Kolber, as well as Claudine and Stephen Bronfman. Special guests included Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman, Claridge Investments president and former Montreal Canadiens boss Pierre Boivin and his wife Lucie, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum and Côte St. Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. Birnbaum, Brownstein and I each suffer from IBD. I am one of the lucky ones and have been symptom free for many years. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s Board of Directors Chairman Harvey Doer came in from Vancouver while board members Angela DiVirgilio and David Goldsmith were joined by President and CEO Mina Mawani and Vice President of Development Rea Ganesh. Regional Director Edna Mendelson. Development Coordinator for Montreal Stefanie Rosenblatt and Development Coordinator for Quebec Rosalie Sarasua produced an outstanding and classy evening with their team of volunteers.
Dr. Alain Bitton, one of Jackie’s doctors and the director of the Division of Gastroenterology at McGill University, spoke beautifully about a patient he had nothing but admiration for. “I met Jackie when she was 18,” he said. “She already had the disease for 10 years. It was clear she was not going to let the disease get the best of her. She had a goal of heightening awareness about Crohn’s Disease. On a personal note, she was an extraordinary person. I’d come to visit her in the hospital and she’d always ask how my day had been.”
Sniatowsky noted that she first met Jackie when she joined the gala committee. “She was sweet and beautiful, wise beyond her years and full of love and energy,” she said. “Jackie captured our hearts with her ease and her grace. Upon hearing the news, without having to utter a word, Erin and I knew that we could not ‘retire’ from chairing the gala yet. We needed to share Jackie’s story. We needed the world to know that we lost someone so very precious and we wanted to honour Jackie for all she has done for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. Despite suffering from Crohn’s, she came to every gala committee meeting and participated in every gala. She participated in the M & M Barbeques and the Gutsy walks. She took the initiative to start the Gutsy Generation, now known as ‘Generation C.’ she also was on the Crohn’s Colitis Youth Advisory committee. Jackie accomplished more in her short life than most people accomplish in a lifetime."
Mawani, who works out of the head office in Toronto added: “Jackie was so passionate about improving lives for people with these diseases. She worked selflessly to make a difference. Although she left us way too soon, in that time she was able to do so much for young people like her. The Endowment Fund in her name will help countless young people facing these diseases and touch thousands of children by enabling education programs and resources – just like Jackie would have wanted. I cannot imagine what it is to lose a daughter and a sister, but I do know that this gift will keep Jackie’s legacy and Jackie’s spirit alive with all of us. Jackie was such an inspirational and giving person.”
Doer, Mawani and Ganesh presented a framed letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the Fishers. “I would like you to know that over three years ago, Jackie was nominated to be the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal,” Persico intervened. “At the time, it was felt that Jackie was so young, with a glorious future ahead of her full of awards and medals. The medal went to an equally deserving more mature and exceptional volunteer. The letter from the Prime Minister of Canada is a small measure to ‘correct’ the past and honour Jackie life and legacy."
The Fishers were extremely stoic on this evening. “Wherever Jackie is, she must be so humbled,” Rina said.
Larry added that his daughter dubbed family and friends who launched the initial gala campaign as “Team Fisher.” He then looked out at the standing room only audience and stated, “You are now all honourary members of Team Fisher.” This was followed up by the dramatic announcement that the $1 million objective for the event had been achieved.”
Sister Rachel, an anesthesiologist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, commented how “it was impossible to capture Jackie’s full life in 10 minutes, but we hope the video gave the essence of who she was.”
Following the ceremony, guests enjoyed light music from Joanne Cutler’s Que Sera band while in another area Jason Rosenblatt provided music on keyboard and Tevet Sela on flute. Virgin Radio’s Lee Haberkon, held court for an amazing live auction, which brought in about $10,000.
Some of Montreal’s finest restaurants donated an endless array of delicious food for the evening, all at different stations. This included Bagels on Green, Beaux Gateaux, Burger Bar, C&C meat packing, Caldwell, Chez Nino, Galerie Au Chocolat, Grumman '78, Hof Kelsten, J&R Butcher, Joe Beef, Nora Gray, Patisserie Cocoa Local, Steve's Fish Store, Wolfe Montcalm, La Sirène, Boulangerie Le Fournil, Traiteur LT, Moishe's, TCBY, Java U, David's Tea, Squish. Snowdon Deli, Spice Market, Beaver Tails, Loic, Montreal Plaza, Bars Boutique, Smokeshow, Dopocena, Foxy, Simply Wonderful, Starbucks Kimmie Cakes and Schwartz's. The kosher corner included Amsellem Artisan Charcutier, Paradise Kosher, The Living Room, Boulangerie Cheskie, Elégant et Raffiné, Beso, Chops and La MargueritePizza pita/The Living Room
Auction items included from Pearls Galore, a Gatsby bracelet with four strands of 6mm white cultured pearls, and a pearl and malachite necklace ($1,150 value); a Staycation for two one night at the Ritz, dinner at Maison Boulud, a couples massage at Spa St. James and a $500 gift certificate at Harry Rosen ($1,615 value); a two night Stay at Chateau Mont-Saint-Anne, a 10 Karat yellow genuine citrine stone pendant with Cubic Zirconias, and two three-month gym memberships for the MAA ($2,050 value); Tahitian Pearl earrings with diamonds set in white gold ($2,300 value); Vegas for two, including three nights at Caesars Palace, two tickets to Cirque du Soleil and two tickets to a concert by Céline Dion, Britney Spears or Rod Stewart. Airfare included! (up to $4,000 value); and a European or Caribbean Cruise for two, a seven day cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line in a Balcony Stateroom and airfare included! (up to $7,000 value).
For more information about the Montreal chapter call Stefanie at 514-342-0666.
You can see the fabulous video here. The password is "Jackie."