Colin Irving, Volunteer Navigator
The Irving family’s gift to St. Michael’s in support of patients experiencing disadvantage honours a life of service.
Walk into the Slaight Family Emergency Department at St. Michael’s Hospital, and there was Colin Irving, in the main waiting room, greeting patients as they came in – their first point of contact.
For two years, until he passed away in 2019, Colin was a passionate volunteer and steadfast ambassador, someone with a strong sense of social justice and compassion. He wanted patients to feel seen, heard and comforted. He wanted them to know that someone was looking out for them. It was a personal mission.
His sense of calm made others feel calm. And he was non-judgmental – precisely why he connected so easily with St. Michael’s diverse patients. “He saw the heart of people and the human inside them,” says Jennefer Simo, a community support worker.
The Emergency Department was where he felt at home. According to his brother John, “Colin easily connected with the Emergency Department because he saw the efficiency and immediate direct positive impact the health-care staff were having on the lives of others.”
Christy Pickles, the Emergency Department’s Clinical Leader and Manager, recalls, “I never saw him when he wasn’t grabbing a blanket, or transporting someone in a wheelchair. Colin cared especially for people who were homeless, and he’d regularly drop by the hospital’s Rotary Centre to get some clothes or food for someone who needed them. He was a familiar presence in a chaotic environment.”
Colin and St. Michael’s were a good fit. The hospital is renowned for providing compassionate, accessible and equitable health care in an environment that welcomes everyone – especially those experiencing disadvantage, who comprise a significant part of our patient population.
So when Colin Irving passed away last year, his family honoured his wishes and gave a $1-million gift as Colin desired to support the three areas of the hospital that meant the most to him: expanding the Homeless Outreach Counselor program, which coordinates follow-up health-care and community supports for people who are homeless; a patient comfort fund in the Emergency Department, to provide essentials like food, clothing and medicines to patients who are experiencing disadvantage; and renewing the Volunteer Services Lounge, where the volunteers take breaks, talk through their experiences, and get guidance from other volunteers.
“Not only was he one of our best volunteers,” says Michael Kidd, Director of Volunteer Services. “He was a mentor to other volunteers, who often sought counsel from him on challenges they were facing.”
Whether it was patients or volunteers, Colin put everyone before himself. Samuel Coleman, who worked alongside Colin every Tuesday in patient registration, says they’d spend the time between patients planning how to help people who are homeless. “Colin’s life was a life of service. He has left behind a legacy that will live forever.”
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