Hazel Gillespie

Life is eternal; love is immortal; and death is only a horizon. And a horizon is nothing save the limits of our sight.


In Hazel’s own words…

I have had a fabulous life! I am grateful to have been born into this world on October 25, 1950 by two teen-aged parents and, just 10 days later, to be adopted by Grace and Jack Gillespie, who became my parents until their respective deaths in 1971 and 1989. My life has been full of rich opportunities including a 30 year career at Petro-Canada where I met countless wonderful people who became life-long friends.

…and in the words of others

Much of Hazel’s adult life was spent in Calgary, working for 30 years in what was then called “the oil patch.” She was known by her colleagues at Petro-Canada as a tireless worker who often had to be told to go home, and her beloved cats were there to greet her. Much of her work was in the area of corporate social responsibility: involvement in community initiatives addressing poverty and health care, supporting education, celebrating the arts and amateur sports.

She was so effective in her role that the Hazel Gillespie Community Investment Leadership Award was created on her retirement in 2009 to honour her many achievements.

Beyond work, Hazel was very rich in friends. She connected people, mentored others, and took great delight in giving gifts.

Hazel received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 1997. Following multiple surgeries, she is said to have responded with “Thanks for the mammories” in celebration of her new figure.

Optimism characterized much of Hazel’s response to people and life’s challenges. This was especially evident when, after 15 years cancer-free, her disease reappeared just as she retired. A persistent cough was the first sign that cancer had reoccurred in her lungs. In her typical organized manner, she thoroughly researched her condition and pursued all possible options for regaining her health, carrying her binder of notes and questions to doctors’ visits.

It was during this time that Hazel came to understand that the altruism motivating her for so long was a core Christian ethic, and so she embraced her new-found faith with characteristic enthusiasm. Her local church community became a great source of strength and comfort when it became known that the cancer was not going to be cured.

Friends she had nurtured over the years now gathered around to allow her to remain at home almost to the end. When it became necessary to move to hospice, she even organized the visits, limiting them to her closest circle, knowing that she could not bear to say goodbyes to so many individuals. She struggled against the failure to overcome her cancer, but once the way ahead became clear, she approached it with the same determination that we had come to know. She leaves each one of us with a legacy of herself that is uniquely “Haz.”

Lightly edited based on an obituary in the Globe & Mail by Bryan Cummings

I had no idea when I first began working with Hazel in 2004 – nor when she later brought me along to a workshop about community investment strategy – that I would one day be using the same principles discussed at that workshop, working in a similar job.

Hazel was also the first person in my professional life who showed me how it felt to be fully seen at work, and the first person who showed me that it was okay to genuinely care about your colleagues. She was the first who made me realize that disappointing someone at work could feel just as crushing as disappointing someone at home. (Hazel was not, however, the first or last person to be disappointed that I’m not always good at choosing when to be sarcastic.)

I’m not the only one with admiration for Hazel. I’ve lost track of the number of people who sigh when her name comes up in conversation and say, “Oh Hazel. I loved Hazel.”

People loved her enough that in late 2008, they began fundraising to create an award in her name. And we continue her legacy with that award today.

Written by Kelli Stevens in 2020, during the announcement of a “Hazel award” recipient