MaryAnn Deacon: A source of comfort until the end

MaryAnn Deacon accepts her Black Tie award at Brentwood College in April. - Andrew Leong/file
MaryAnn Deacon accepts her Black Tie award at Brentwood College in April.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

A yellow Cowichan Hospice bumper sticker and a green pin to match her vest.

Those items and a cheek-to-cheek smile tag along almost everywhere with long-time Cowichan community staple MaryAnn Deacon.

It’s no wonder the 77-year-old (turning 78 in June) was recently awarded a Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year Black Tie award for her contributions to the community.

“If people need something, and I can help, then I do,” Deacon said this week. “You kind of just grow up that way, thinking that. My mom belonged to the hospital auxillary and other groups. I grew up just following along I suppose.”

The 46-year Cowichan resident has spent the past 14 years lending a hand with the hospice society, among many, many other local organizations.

The retired nurse and elementary school teacher has been the hospice society’s board president for the past two years.

“MaryAnn said at first that she didn’t want the nomination because she feels that everyone volunteers, and there are excellent hospice and other volunteers across the valley,” said hospice society executive director Gretchen Hartley of the Black Tie distinction. “Then on second thought she saw an opportunity to let people know a bit more about hospice.

“In accepting the award MaryAnn described growth in the use of hospice services from fewer than 100 people a year when she started volunteering to over 800 clients a year currently.”

Deacon has served many terms on the hospice board of directors, instilling the vision of its three founders. They follow the lead of Dame Cicely Mary Saunders, a prominent Anglican nurse, social worker, physician and writer who promoted the most comfortable, caring environments for end-of-life patients in their last days.

And that’s why Deacon’s particularly tickled about the local society’s collaboration in planning the future of palliative care with the CVRD and with local physicians through the Shared Care committee.

Deacon’s calm demeanor and friendly smile is a huge asset to the hospice vigil team as a 24-hour contact available to sit with someone in their final hours at any time of the night or day.

She’s also running Cowichan’s Reel Alternatives film series now entering its 11th year, an initiative started by Deacon’s friend Janet Hicken that has raised about $160,000 for hospice care in the past 10 years.

“MaryAnn shares the love with other organizations,” toasted Hartley. “Although she was too busy to disclose all of her volunteer commitments in the valley we do know she is past co-chair of the Elder College, current co-chair of the Program Committee University Women’s Club and participant in its Feed the Homeless group.

“She is on the board of Friends of the Cowichan Theatre and a committed caregiver for several ailing friends and neighbours here in Cowichan.

“She is also known to frequently jump in her car to drive to the interior or other parts of the province to provide her special brand of care-giving to older friends who need her help.”

Filling her day-planner with volunteering comes second to none to Deacon.

And the Hospice Society too.

“Whenever we become aware of a need in the community, we help, in a non-invasive way,” said Deacon, noting programs that have branched off the hospice care tree.

“I’m glad to be helpful to families grieving,” she said. “I’ve been with people in their last moments in their homes, private care facilities, and hospitals. It’s all a part of life that’s normal and it’s about making a normal part of life as comfortable as can be.”


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