The founder of the Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre (CDC) Aileen Hewett has died at the age of 102.
Her son, Tom Hewett, said she died in Deni House in Williams Lake on Monday, Sept. 21, where she had been living since October 2018.
“She still had her wits and sense of humour,” Tom said. “She took a turn a couple of weeks ago and deteriorated quite a bit.”
Proud of his mom, Tom said she was always making sure every child was looked after.
“She was a good mom and an amazing woman.”
It was in the early 1970s when she was working as a receptionist for a pediatrician, Dr. Jan Riegl, that Aileen met parents whose children had special needs.
Many were worried about having to take their children to Prince George or Vancouver for appointments so she began her quest for a local centre for children.
That effort led to a Williams Lake group founding the Provincial Association for Cerebral Palsy and signing a charter on Sept. 20, 1974 to become an independent local group.
From humble beginnings in a room at the old skating rink the CDC, thanks to a fundraising campaign led by Aileen, moved into a brand new centre on Second Avenue North where it is today.
In recognition of her efforts, the building was officially named after Aileen in 2003.
The Women’s Contact Society selected Aileen for its Woman of Heart Award in 2013.
When she turned 100, a special birthday party was held for her at the CDC.
Coincidentally she shared the same birthday as Nancy Gale, who was the executive director of the CDC for 18 years and inherited the job from Aileen.
Gale recalled her first board meeting where Aileen asked ‘what are you going to do for kids in the community?’
“This question stayed with me and I used it every day to guide what management and staff were doing at the CDC,” Gale said Thursday. “Aileen worked tirelessly and without ego for the CDC. She was an extraordinarily creative fund raiser, collecting pennies in the biggest piggy bank in Canada.”
Gale said Aileen never lost sight of the importance of the CDC to the community’s well-being.
“Since 1974 her legacy has supported 100s of local children and their families.”
On her 101st birthday, Aileen was asked about her longevity and she replied, “I stayed healthy by working I guess.”
Responding to the news of her passing, current CDC executive director Vanessa Riplinger posted a statement on behalf of the staff on her Facebook page.
“We will miss Aileen terribly, her tenacious attitude, dedication to the CDC and passion for making children’s lives better set the standards we follow today. Williams Lake and the Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre has lost a strong child advocate and community leader,” the statement noted.
Aileen was predeceased by her husband Doug and son Robert.