The gift of a lifetime

Mira Ratkaj is making remarkable positive change for the people around her. By leaving a legacy gift in her Will, Mira is supporting future Indigenous students experiencing financial barriers to a university education.

By Cassie Dowse

A photo of legacy donor Mira Ratkaj

Legacy donors are a community of supporters who believe in the power of education and help us build a better future. Learn more about planned giving and get in touch with the Legacy Gift Planning Team.

Mira Ratkaj, BSc’85, is making remarkable positive change for the people around her. Humble and thoughtful, Mira moves through her life’s journey with one goal – helping others.

A firm believer in giving back, Mira has spent decades at many different non-profit organizations. Currently a dedicated volunteer for the Ukrainian refugee community in London, Mira’s difference in this world is undeniable. 

“As a first-generation immigrant I remember everything people did for my family when we arrived in Canada,” says Mira. “We didn’t have a lot growing up, but my parents were very generous in other ways, and they inspired me.”

The story that told the tale

For more than two decades Mira has had Western in her Will, but it wasn’t until recently that she discovered where she wanted to direct her charitable gift. In 2023 Mira received Western’s Annual Impact, a report shared with donors to highlight the positive difference they make through their giving. On the cover of the publication was Vanessa Ambtman-Smith, an Indigenous PhD student. 

Vanessa’s story of trial and triumph struck a chord with Mira and following a visit to the Wampum Learning Lodge at Western, Mira reflected on the importance of creating safe spaces for Indigenous students. “We’re all on our own journey with Truth and Reconciliation,” says Mira, who finally understood what she could do as part of those efforts.

“Vanessa’s story made it abundantly clear that Indigenous peoples experience many barriers to accessing education. Her self-perseverance ignited something in me. I hope my gift will provide opportunity for future Indigenous students.”

Mira decided that in addition to a bequest, she would give through her life insurance policy which carries significant tax benefits. “Rather than having that policy go to my estate, those tax-free funds will flow to Western directly. It’s very efficient.”

It’s never too late, or early, to plan ahead

When her father passed away without a Will, Mira’s family had a difficult time figuring out how to best honour his intentions while grieving his death. This experience underscored the importance of estate planning.

“Because of what my family went through, getting my Will sorted out early provided me peace of mind.”

Her lawyer encouraged her to think about options. "I think some people have the perception that a legacy gift needs to be a large sum of money," says Mira. "While that is very gracious, any amount makes a difference."

A community builder at heart

Giving back has always felt like a natural fit for Mira. Over the years, she has meaningfully assisted the community at Wellspring Cancer Support London & Region, Big Brothers Big Sisters of London and as a board member at Haven, a Toronto day shelter for men ages 55+. Mira also served on the board of directors for the Parkwood Hospital Foundation and continued after the hospitals merged to become St. Joseph’s Health Care London.

Her support of refugees from war-torn Ukraine runs the gamut. She takes people to the passport office and appointments, helps them extend permits, finds employment opportunities and has even helped furnish people’s homes. Mira also hosts Rymma Yakymets, a student from Ukraine, in her home while she completes her undergraduate studies at Western.

Mira Ratkaj hosts Ukrainian undergraduate student Rymma Yakymets in her home while she completes her degree.

Now retired from her financial consulting career, Mira provides career coaching services for women in STEM who have recently graduated, many of them Western alumni. She also welcomes any opportunity to help students on campus, including judging a recent case competition and facilitating job search workshops.

“I think helping others is what makes the world go round. We should all do our part if we have the capacity and the time,” says Mira.

Think about the difference you will make

Mira’s best advice? Lean on the professionals who can guide you.

“Legacy giving is so easy! Find a lawyer and financial advisor, and make sure you work with Western’s Legacy Giving Team to identify how you can best direct your gift. That was so helpful for me. Think about what’s important to you and the difference you want to make."