For more than three decades, Victoria Hospice has supported those who are dying.

“What we try to do with our care is really come alongside patients and families and help them through those final stages,” says Tom Arnold, Director of Fund Development for Victoria Hospice.

“It builds such strong relationships between our care staff and the patients and families, and I think Deb has really been such a leader in doing that so well.”

“Deb” is Dr. Deb Braithwaite, who has been with Victoria Hospice since those early days.

“I was a new graduate,” says Braithwaite.

“I had just finished my residency in family practice, but there was an opportunity to do a couple of half days a week at the Victoria Hospice, which was a brand new palliative care unit here in Victoria, and I just jumped at the chance.”

Braithwaite knew she’d found her calling.

“Once I got into it, I really loved it. And after a few years, I knew that that was the career that I was going to keep,” adds Braithwaite.

Arnold says Braithwaite is “just such a tone-setter in terms of the kind of care that we want to provide.

“The way that we want to be available to patients, the way we want to be available to families ? really putting those patients and families at the centre of our care -? Dr. Deb has always modeled that,” says Arnold.

As she looks back over her many years with Hospice, Braithwaite admits that it has not only given her a rewarding career, it has given her love too, because Braithwaite and her husband met at Victoria Hospice.

“It was a volunteer appreciation night. It was held at the Art Gallery [of Greater Victoria],” says her husband Andy Wooldridge.

That was 17 years ago. Wooldridge had already been volunteering at the hospice for a decade.

“I always fancied her. I’d seen her on the unit, and only talked to her once many years beforehand,” Wooldridge said.

“[At the Art Gallery fundraiser] I just said “Hello Debra” in my mock Michael Caine voice, and it actually worked! We’ve been an item ever since!”

Now, after 34 years with Victoria Hospice, Dr. Braithwaite has made the tough decision to retire.

“Of course I’ll miss it,” says Braithwaite.

“You don’t work at a place that you love, and do the kind of work that you love as much as I have, over all these years, without leaving a little bit of your heart behind. So part of my heart will always be with Hospice.”

As Victoria Hospice depends on community donations to provide roughly half their funding, Braithwaite hopes many will join the Hike For Hospice on Sunday, May 6.

“It’s always the right time to get behind a good cause,” says Braithwaite, “And Hospice is one of the very best out there.”

Arnold agrees. “For a lot of the families that have been touched by our care, events like Hike For Hospice create an opportunity for them to remember their loved one, and honour their loved one in a fun way, and get friends and family involved.”

Veronica Cooper