The Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) pulled out all the stops last week to create a fitting celebration of World AIDS Day and of excellence in HIV/AIDS work, along the way raising thousands of fundraising dollars to help further their work.
The World AIDS Day Gala, now in its fifth year, is a glittering affair that attracts a variety of generous sponsors and supporters willing to put on their Sunday best for an affair, usually held in the Nation's capital, and chip in. It’s no secret, after all, that CAS has been hard hit by funding cuts over the years, so it is reliant on events like these to continue its important work supporting its 120 community-based member organizations.
I was there, one of twenty-two from our community honoured to be receiving Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medals through a nationwide selection process that the CAS board had mediated. (Another eight recipients had received their award previously.) I was, frankly, dazzled by the whole night. So if I say everything was perfect, you will just have to believe me.
My partner Meirion and I drove to Ottawa, and crossed over the river to Gatineau (Hull) to the Chateau Cartier, the hotel where the event was to be held. The invitation specified business suit or black tie for men; we both wore tuxes. (Few people have ever seen me in a suit and tie, yet alone a tux, so photos are included here for the doubters.)
Bob Leahy with Kevin Hatt, Ontario AIDS Network board member
The cocktail hour was lovely. It was fabulous to see so many people I have profound affection for, some I have known for many years, all in one room – and for a change, all dressed up. Meanwhile, fine grazing was available at stations around the room with elegant finger food from some of Ottawa’s best restaurants. It was an ingenious way to feature fine nibbles and showcase these establishments at no cost to CAS.
I’d estimate the crowd at about 300.
As the dinner hour approached, fellow PoisitiveLite.com writer Denise Becker who had flown in from Vancouver to receive her award was on her way from the airport in a cab, stuck in traffic. She arrived just as we were being seated for dinner, looking chic in a black cocktail dress accented at the back with a wide white collar.
One always wonders what banquet food will be like, but there were no worries here. Chateau Cartier, who subsidized this event very generously, presented a flawless meal - lobster ravioli, followed by prime rib and then a very pretty fruit mousse for dessert. During dinner, there was an impressive line up of speakers including Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, future Toronto mayor (we hope) Olivia Chow in live auction mode and Sean Rourke, Scientific and Executive Director of the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) giving the keynote address.
But even if the Health Minister took the opportunity to make a major funding announcement (thanks, Feds) I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that, for me, the main course that night was the presentation of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medals.
It was so well handled – dignified but warm - and struck just the right note. Very emotional too for some onlookers apparently, although for me, while I expected to be teary-eyed, I was just beaming with happiness.
Each recipient was called up to the stage individually and had their medal pinned on them by Dr Colin Carrie, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. This proved to be no easy task – the medals have a little pin at the back that isn’t the easiest thing for a presenter to manoeuvre in to position - so this awards process, with twenty-two of us receiving medals, took quite some time.
Medal Recipients from British Columbia Dr. Brian Conway, Bradford McIntyre, Denise Becker and May McQueen. Photo courtesy of www.positivelypositive.ca
The recipients were in high spirits. In fact, for me, one of the nicest moments of the entire evening was mingling with fellow recipients by the side of the stage, congratulating each other and exchanging hugs as the awards presentations went on. There were so many people I admire there in that group. Here are the names of those who received medals that night that formed that proud group of warriors.
Denise Becker, Dr. Brian Conway, Monique Doolittle-Romas, Richard Elliott, Louis Marie-Gagnon, Dr. Jacqueline Gahagan, David Hoe, Brian Huskins, Randy Jackson, Bob Leahy, Maria MacIntosh, Enrico Mandarino, Bradford McIntyre, Albert McNutt, May McQueen, Ted Myers, Mary Elizabeth Paul, Doris Peitier, John Plater (posthumously), Colleen Price, Darien Taylor and Deborah Warren.
Post presentation with PositiveLite.com's Denise Becker
Medal winners receiving their awards elsewhere were Adrian Betts, Jay Browne, Jim Kane, Roger LeClerc, Gerry McConnery, Dr Julio Montaner, Diane Nielsen and Lyle Watling.
While these individuals were awarded their medals through the CAS selection process, others from the HIV community have, it transpires, received recognition with medals through other processes. The very worthy Jay Koornstra was one such example and was in attendance.
I have lived a full life, but this night ranked as one of its happiest moments. I can’t thank CAS enough for the trouble they went to make it a very special evening for all of us. Thank you also to fellow recipients for sharing this moment and thank you too to all who attended and supported this event in other ways.
Believe me, it was a blast!