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From tragedy, a lasting legacy

The Nursing Class of ’79 honoured their former classmate by rallying together to establish a student award in her memory

nursing class photo

The Nursing Class of ’79, pictured at their 40th reunion, came together to increase the value of an award honouring a classmate who died in a traffic accident shortly before graduation day. Marjorie Bogaert (front row, third from left) expects more contributions to follow.

It was a Friday night in 1979. Marjorie Bogaert, BScN’79, was in a pub with some of her nursing school classmates after another demanding week of lectures, assignments and caring for patients. The tight-knit group of 40 students was weeks away from graduation – eager to launch the next chapter of their lives. Then someone ran into the pub with horrific news.

Two of their classmates were travelling in a car on Highway 401 when a truck crossed the median and collided with their car. Linda Lees died and another classmate, who was driving, was seriously injured. The pair were planning to go shopping, excitedly preparing for Lees’ upcoming wedding, when everything changed in an instant.

When the Nursing Class of 1979 convocated, Lees was recognized with a posthumous degree, received by her fiancé. “Everyone stood,” recalled Bogaert. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. We all remember it like it was yesterday.”

Nursing class of 79 headshots

Determined to see Lees’ memory live on, her classmates created a student award in her name. Established shortly after her death, the Linda Frances Lees Award is given annually to a nursing student who exemplifies characteristics often used to describe Linda, such as selflessness, compassion, enthusiasm for life and seeing the good in others.

Kiera Abernethy, BScN’20, said she was incredibly touched to receive the award as a student in 2020. Now, working as a nurse at the Parkwood Institute in London, she helps patients rehabilitate from traumatic injuries, such as those suffered by the driver of the car in which Lee was riding on the night the crash took her life.

“It must have been such a scary time,” said Abernethy. “I see how resilient people can be and how hard they work to recover and go home to their families. It is a privilege to help them on their journey.”

Abernethy, who also works at the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, put the award funding toward the cost of her nursing registration exams, allowing her to focus on her studies rather than worrying about paying the bills.

The classmates from 1979 have remained close since graduation — Bogaert has a photo of their graduating class, which includes Lees, displayed in her home office — and two years ago at their 40th class reunion they decided to raise additional funds to strengthen Lees’ award. The effort, spearheaded by Bogaert, was successful and the endowed award now provides $1,200 annually.

“We will provide support to students forever. That’s amazing,” said Bogaert.

Lees continues to inspire the Class of ’79. With a 45th reunion under discussion, and the upcoming Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing’s 100th-anniversary celebration, Bogaert anticipates raising even more funds to increase the award’s value.

“Linda’s legacy is far-reaching and enduring,” Bogaert said. “Something good has come from a tragedy that stays with us to this day.”

You can contribute to the Linda Frances Lees Award at westernconnect.ca/lindafrancesleesaward or by contacting Stephanie Cyros at 519-661-2111 x88828 or snoble6@uwo.ca.