The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre was sparked by a young man’s tragic death. The Winnipeg addictions treatment facility is up and running and celebrated its first graduates Wednesday, however, because of the determination and tenacity of his mother.
Anne Oake died of an autoimmune liver disease Monday. She was 65.
Scott Oake, her husband of 41 years, said Wednesday without her, the recovery centre would just be a dream. Their 25-year-old son died of an overdose in 2011.
"We would have received donations when Bruce died and we would have given them to organizations which helped people like him," he said. "Her initiative and inspiration... she was the driving force behind it. She just kept it going.
"Without her there would be no Bruce Oake treatment centre."
After 10 years of effort to make the health facility a reality, she was taken to hospital for a final time Aug. 20, just two days before its official opening. She died two days before the centre had a ceremony honouring the first graduates from its treatment program.
"It seems really, really unfair," Scott Oake said.
"Her mother and her aunt both died of autoimmune disorders at 65. But our lives changed after Bruce’s death 10 years ago. Her appetite declined. I said, we have to sort this out, but she just thought it was part of her ongoing grief. When she was finally diagnosed last February, it was further along."
He said family held out hope, even as late as last weekend, she would receive a liver transplant, but her health quickly spiralled.
Her death was marked at the provincial and civic levels.
"Anne’s life was dedicated to helping others and a tremendous example of what it means to serve our community. With the establishment of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, Manitoba will continue to benefit from the lasting legacy of Anne and her family," Premier Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement. "(I) wish to extend my condolences to the entire Oake family on behalf of all Manitobans."
"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Anne Oake," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a statement.
"Winnipeg has lost a tremendous community champion who leaves a legacy of healing for generations to come. The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre will have a lasting, positive impact on our city and I am grateful for the tireless efforts put in by Anne, Scott and Darcy Oake to see it come to fruition."
Anne Oake grew up in St. Vital and went to Glenlawn Collegiate. She went on a blind date with Scott in the late 1970s and got married May 31, 1980.
Anne was marketing director for Cadillac Fairview Corp. when she left to spend more time at home with her first child, Bruce. In her 40s, she went back to school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, working in palliative care.
Bruce Oake centre executive director Greg Kyllo recalled coming in one weekend, before it opened, and she was there with two friends, washing sheets and making all 50 beds for the residents who would soon arrive.
"Anne just represents the very best of us," said Kyllo. "She turned real tragedy to such a wonderful project for the community.
"Anne’s legacy is all the work they’ve done will continue on and on and hundreds and thousands of Manitobans will be supported. Her legacy will live on, but she will be missed."
Susan Millican, centre board member, said: "She never saw these young men as just people with an addiction — she saw the whole person with all these complex and great qualities who had an addiction. She didn’t write them off."
Millican said the decade-long drive to fundraise and get from idea to reality was hard.
"She was doing it in her son’s honour," she said. "It just showed her strength and determination. You know sometimes she wanted to cry, but she just got up and did it."
Anne Oake is survived by her husband, son Darcy, his partner Leslie, her brother, and other relatives.
The family is asking for donations in Anne’s memory to go to the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.