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"To cater to humanity; to bring a measure of hope to people whose outlook seems hopeless."
Mission of the Brenda Strafford Foundation
Barrie Strafford has offered distinguished service as a nursing home and assisted care facility leader, as a caring humanitarian serving people in need in underprivileged countries and as a tireless supporter of a wide range of Alberta causes from medical research that benefits seniors to programs for victims of domestic abuse.
Barrie Ingram Strafford was born in Manchester, England on September 26, 1928. The only child of Dudley and Gladys Strafford, Barrie enjoyed the care and attention of parents who worked hard to give their son every possible advantage in life. That included the opportunity to attend Clarke’s College in Bristol from the age of 13. Barrie made the best of an opportunity that had been created for him at considerable financial sacrifice by his parents and obtained honours in English, History, Literature and Art. Throughout school he was also active in sports and served as an air cadet.
As a teenager, Barrie harboured a desire to become a test pilot and volunteered to join the military in the final year of the Second World War. He successfully made his way through the battery of tests required of all potential pilots, only to discover in the final stages that he was colour blind and would be unable to fly. Still anxious to serve in whatever capacity he could, Barrie became a radio operator with the Royal Navy. He began his duties at the age of 18 and served for two years, after the end of the war.
Barrie freely admits that he regrets not returning to school after his military service. However, the years following his Royal Navy service did net one very important result. On July 29, 1950, Barrie married Brenda Mary Mabbs, whom he had met at a dance in Keynsham, England. Brenda would prove to be not only his life partner but the main inspiration for the exceptional public service he would one day offer.
Barrie and Brenda set about building a life together in England and welcomed a son, Miles, in 1951. Barrie soon realized that he would enjoy a better chance of realizing his dream of opening his own business if the family moved overseas. After considering various options, he and Brenda chose Canada as their new home. In 1952, Barrie went ahead to begin looking for work and arrived in Halifax where he was greeted by one of Brenda’s relatives and was told to continue west to Calgary because it was viewed as “the place of the future of Canada.” Once there, Barrie wasted no time in settling down to work as a painter and then as a cost accountant for a construction business. His family joined him the next year and Barrie and Brenda set about raising a family that grew to include Miles and three daughters: Roxanne, Sheree and Lisa.
In 1962, Barrie increased his education by enrolling in extension courses in Management Development at the U of A in Calgary where he gained honours in Accounting and Economics. In the 1960’s, Barrie also fulfilled his dream of flying when a regulation change allowed him to earn his wings and purchase an airplane.
By 1964, Barrie knew that it was time to make a change from his duties as an accountant and manager and return to his original dream of opening his own business. At first, he was attracted to nursing homes as a promising business opportunity because they were an area of growth for the province at that time. He became involved in the newly created Alberta Nursing Home Plan and chose Medicine Hat as a location in need of a modern facility. Barrie and his family were welcomed into the community with open arms and he set about building the Riverview Nursing Home. On the grand opening day, that new facility became far more than a business venture to Barrie. As he watched the first 13 residents being admitted, Barrie was profoundly struck by how much they needed care and compassion and, in that moment, he made a personal commitment to dedicate himself to serving seniors.
As the Riverview became established, Barrie extended his commitment to the community with duties as director and chairman of the Alberta Motor Association in Medicine Hat and a director of the Alberta Hospital Association where he represented all nursing homes in Alberta. He also took over operations of the Bow View Nursing Home in Calgary. In time, Barrie and Brenda began discussing possible plans to put a greater focus on charitable work.
Tragically, Brenda would never see those plans come to fruition. Barrie lost his wife in a car accident on June 23, 1974. That terrible event prompted Barrie to dedicate himself to serve others in her honour. He created the Brenda Strafford Foundation and began looking for community investments, primarily in the areas of health care and services for seniors.
He began his work overseas, building health clinics in the small, impoverished Caribbean Island of Dominica. His friend Arthur Jenkins, the then president of the charitable organization Operation Eyesight Universal, suggested that Barrie find a way to serve the people of Haiti. That suggestion evolved into the Institut Brenda Strafford in Haiti which represented a significant operation for the Foundation and provides invaluable health care services to countless people who would otherwise go without. In addition to the Institut, the Foundation’s Caribbean projects have grown to include Brenda Strafford Health Clinics in four communities in Dominica, eye care beds for the Princess Margaret Hospital in Dominica and various health related teaching and testing projects. The Foundation also established the Village of Hope in Montego Bay, Jamaica, which serves as a medical centre, an AIDS hospice and a teaching orphanage.
While Barrie was hard at work developing the Foundation’s charitable programs to benefit people in need in the Caribbean, he devoted equal energies to helping his fellow Albertans. The Foundation’s investments in the province include continuing care facilities such as Bow View Manor and Wentworth Manor in Calgary, the Brenda Strafford Centre for the Prevention of Domestic Violence which provides safe, affordable housing and counseling for women and their children fleeing domestic violence, Gateway Place for women without children fleeing domestic violence and a transitional housing facility for Calgary homeless families called Brenda’s House.
In addition to focusing on creating facilities that allow seniors to maintain their independence as long as possible and to live with the dignity and compassion they deserve, Barrie has also committed significant Foundation resources to researching seniors’ issues and encouraging the development of medical expertise in Alberta. This includes Brenda Strafford Chairs at the University of Calgary in Geriatric Medicine and Alzheimer Research, as well as the U of C Brenda Strafford Centre of Excellence in Gerontological Nursing. Barrie’s commitment to helping abused women also resulted in the university’s Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
Barrie Strafford’s commitment to service has resulted in numerous honours over the years, including the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, Honourary Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, an Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Calgary and special recognition from the Canadian Geriatric Society and the People of Dominica. Barrie also received the highest papal honour available when he was made a Knight of St. Silvester by Pope Benedict XVI.