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Comox Valley charities grateful for donation from 'two amazing people'
Three Comox Valley charities are benefiting from the donation of $1 million from the estate of a local woman described as "an incredible person who lived for the moment."
The gifts, made in the will of Michele Woodrow, were distributed to the Comox Valley Hospice Society (who received $500,000), Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (who received $300,000) and a local animal welfare organization who wishes to remain anonymous (who received $200,000).
"I am lucky to have known them," said Lisa Zuk, neighbour and executor of Woodrow's estate, of Michele and her husband Danny. "They were the type of people would would always make donations or support local businesses, but they were never obvious. They didn't want people to know."
Married for more than 15 years, the couple supported organizations in the Valley throughout their lives, always wanting to help their neighbours, added Zuk.
"If someone opened a new hamburger restaurant in town, they would go every week and support it, or they would always buy their bread at a new bakery and tell everyone about it. They always supported the underdog," she explained.
"They made big donations in the past but nobody knew about them. They were like that."
Zuk noted Michele, originally from Campbell River, rented a building to the theatre society in the city, and ended up giving the building to the organization.
"They were amazing individually, and an incredible couple together."
When Danny became sick, Zuk said the couple never complained, and said they always looked at life with a "cup half full" attitude.
"They always shared stories about how wonderful the hospital was, or about a particular nurse, doctor or ambulance attendant. They always found something wonderful in what people did. Even in Danny's ill health, they could always find a way to joke about something."
Six weeks after her husband passed away, Michele was diagnosed with cancer.
"She really thought she was dying of a broken heart," added Zuk.
While they never used hospice directly, the couple commented on the importance of the organization in the Valley.
The donation — the largest of its kind — left Comox Valley Hospice Society executive director Terri Odeneal speechless.
"I've certainly never seen generosity of this magnitude," she noted. "It's a very, very generous gift from people who are concerned for this community. It is the consummate way of paying it forward; we are very grateful."
Odeneal noted hospice serves more than 1,000 people every year, and the funds will enable CVHS to provide a full scope of care at the four interim residential hospice beds developed in The Views at St. Joseph's Hospital.
She added funding from Island Heath helps covers medical care of the beds, but the funds from the donation will be used for the grief and bereavement counselling, support, ongoing training and caregiver support.
"It's a huge part of the hospice philosophy, to have a full program of services. People go on living with lives forever changed."
Zuk added "animals loved (the couple)," and Woodrow adopted older animals from shelters.
"The Woodrows were always great supporters of MARS," said Maj Birch, manager of the bird and wildlife recovery group. "It is a record donation, and we intend to honour it with a lasting legacy."
The funds will be used for short- and long-term goals, some which include procuring property, building a large flight pen for birds and upgrades to facilities.
Zuk added she considered the couple a part of their family.
"It's left a big hole in our lives. They were two amazing people."