By Michael Tutton
HALIFAX – Bob Gainey’s family has quietly raised close to $1 million for a foundation created in honour of his daughter Laura, who was lost overboard from a Nova Scotia tall ship almost two years ago.
The Montreal Canadiens general manager, in Halifax to promote National Hockey League exhibition games, said the fundraising work of his surviving children and friends on the foundation has played a key role in helping him heal from grief.
“It takes us away from painful memories, to the happier part of Laura’s life,” he said.
The foundation is also in memory of Gainey’s wife, Cathy, who died in 1995 from cancer.
Gainey said Friday he’s tended to dwell on Laura’s death in December 2006 on a tall ship voyage to the Caribbean aboard the Picton Castle.
Days after the ship set sail, she was swept off the ship by a wave that came across a rear deck. Her body was never found.
Gainey says the charitable work _ raising money for environmental causes and arts educators _ is helping him remember his daughter in earlier periods of her life.
“You can get stuck remembering people the way they were the last time you saw them,” said Gainey.
Now, he thinks of her days teaching art to children near the family’s summer home in Peterborough, Ont., or travelling to the West to work on her boyfriend’s organic farm.
“I think she saw arts as a way to bring some peace and relief to kids like her, in their adolescent years,” he said.
Gainey said the foundation was largely the creation of his three remaining children _ Anna, Colleen and Stephen _ who formed it during family gatherings after their sister’s loss.
Anna Gainey, speaking from the Gainey Foundation office in Montreal, said the “idealism” of her sister will live on through grants that start going out next month.
“This is our way to help continue some of the work that she would have done had she been able to, whether it was helping a young person to paint or promote ways to conserve water,” she said.
The oldest surviving sister said she’s expecting that by mid-September the fund will start awarding grants to some of the 80 applicants from across Canada.
“We were pleased to receive as many applications as we did, and it’s taking us a bit longer than we’d expected to go through them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Bob Gainey scheduled a meeting Friday with a planning committee that’s organizing another fundraising event in Halifax.
Derek White, a family friend, said he expects to be working with former Canadiens star Michael MacPhee and a committee of Halifax businesspeople towards holding a concert in the city.
White said the exact nature of the event isn’t worked out, but the group’s goal is to raise up to $250,000 over the next two years.
“The people on the committee are businesspeople who have the ability and drive to raise substantial funds,” he said.
In Peterborough, a fundraising event raised about $120,000, while a Montreal concert that featured Great Big Sea raised more than $200,000 in March.
Gainey said he’s now awaiting a final report from the Transportation Safety Board on safety standards aboard the tall ship at the time of the accident.
He had criticized a safety report done by the Cook Islands, where the Picton Castle is registered, as failing to carefully examine whether training procedures, certification and equipment were adequate on the vessel.
Gainey said he’s optimistic about the Canadian investigation, based on his reading of a draft report.
“It’s a much clearer report in terms of its content and the way it’s presented. That’s something we didn’t have previously,” he said.
“I’m pretty comfortable (with the report) unless there’s some twist in the final report I didn’t know about.”
© 2008 The Canadian Press