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They say it’s the little things that mean the most but the big things matter just as much.
George and Chris Gilley might not look at it as being a big deal because that’s just the way they are. It’s reflective of their selfless nature.They are a fine complement to one another. Soul mates existing and doing incredible things together.
And what these two have done for the Huntsville Hospital Foundation (and in turn for Huntsville District Memorial Hospital) is a big deal. In fact, it’s huge and it’s wonderful and it brings into focus the true meaning of giving from the heart.
Over the last five years, George and Chris have donated upwards of a million dollars to the HHF. It’s safe to say that these two long-time lovebirds (54 years of wedded bliss!) have a soft spot for our beautiful, little town.
“We didn’t do this for any sort of recognition,” says George. “We’ve always wanted to maintain our anonymity. But if we can somehow encourage more people to become interested in making donations if they can then that might not be a bad thing. That’s all we can hope.’
Back in July 2013, George and Chris sold their business and for the first time in their lives they had some disposable cash. The two have always been lucky enough to enjoy the good life. They thought long and hard about how they could help make a difference. They even toyed with the idea of starting a foundation. But supporting the hospital seemed like a no-brainer. It’s the one facility everyone benefits from and there will always be a need to have it.
“We just love it here,” says Chris. “It’s home. The whole Muskoka area is home.”
She has fond memories of growing up in Minett. Her grandparents lived there and owned and operated the Lone Star, a gas station/restaurant where Chris worked when she was younger.
In fact, it was 56 years ago that George and Chris met on a blind date in Port Carling. They met, fell in love and the rest is history. The two had one son.
Their connection to the entire Muskoka area runs deep.
“We like everything about it here, really,” says George. “You can get anywhere you want to go in five or 10 minutes.”
Although both George, 76, and Chris, 73, have maintained a healthy lifestyle, living in Brampton for 46 years (they only sold their place there in 2017) means they are both familiar with big city hospitals. George recalls a time when his mother fell ill and had a bed in the hallway of a busy hospital. They both know there can be a downside to city hospitals. .
But even before they decided to make their first donation to the HHF, they both had experiences at Huntsville District Memorial Hospital that left them feeling truly cared for.
“Years ago I went to Huntsville Hospital with a bad cramp in my leg so I was totally flabbergasted when I learned it was a blood clot,” recalls Chris. “I had to go back there every second day to determine the proper medication and I was amazed at how well I was treated by the doctors and nurses.”
And George’s love for golf landed him in Huntsville Hospital once after he sustained a gash on his shin that required seven stitches (he got speared by a hidden shrub that had a spike!). Another time, he was certain he was having a heart attack but as it turned out it was a bad case of acid reflux. He remarked on how quick and efficient staff were at the hospital.
“A lot of people don’t realize the gem we have right in our own backyard.”
Katherine Craine, executive director of HHF, gushes about the Gilleys.
“We love them,” she says. “They are the most unassuming, kindest people you’ll ever meet.”
Katherine remembers her first interaction with George and Chris the Friday before Christmas back in December 2015. She had already left the office for the day but was sure to call Chris back upon listening to the message on her voicemail.
“We were on speaker phone, getting acquainted with each other and they were asking me questions. Then all of a sudden they ask me how I would feel about a $250,000 donation. I was speechless. It was pretty amazing. You don’t get those calls very often. It made my day, my year, that’s for sure.”
Katherine says that first initial donation went toward exactly what Huntsville Hospital needed at the time. It enabled the addition of a much-needed chemotherapy hood, a place where pharmacists could safely mix chemo medication. Their second donation of over $50,000 went toward purchasing a panda warmer for the obstetrics unit. The panda warmer, which provides the equipment necessary for resuscitation and stabilization, is crucial for newborns who might be born with complications and therefore need to be transferred to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Over the next two years, donations from the Gilleys helped purchased stretchers for the emergency department, an ICU bed, a birthing bed, and an ECG machine. They’ve made it possible for the hospital to get an anesthesia machine, an acute care ventilalor as well as a portable X-ray machine.
George and Chris’s most recent donation will help purchase “a ton of things” and is most graciously appreciated. The HHF has a priority list and the Gilley’s donation will help get whatever the hospital needs right now. “They felt they had been successful in life and wanted to share that.”
What Katherine notes is most remarkable about the Gilleys is how down to earth they are and how much they truly care about this community.
Aside from supporting the HHF in a big way, George and Chris also make annual donations to other important charities. The Salvation Army (especially at Christmas time) is an organization near and dear to their hearts, as they see how donations go directly toward helping local families who need it the most. They also support the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and Muscular Dystrophy Canada on a regular basis. No matter how big or small the donation is, every bit can help.
No one could have said it better than Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
And that certainly applies to George and Chris.
It just feels good to be able to give, says George.
A handful of simple words that pack a truthful punch.
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