Time to pass the torch

Elizabeth Grandbois launching national tour
By Christine Cox

The Hamilton SpectatorBURLINGTON (Feb 11, 2022)

 Elizabeth Grandbois feels a mixture of sadness and joy as she contemplates tonight's Concert of Hope at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts. It's the sixth annual Hamilton concert, but it's also the grand finale.

The gala event is a fundraiser for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). The Burlington nurse was diagnosed with the devastating disease eight years ago.

She remembers the desperation she felt then, after being told she had two to five years to live. Rising through that desperation was the urge to do something to combat ALS, a progressive neuromuscular disease.

"My husband and I were sitting in the kitchen watching the video Tears Are Not Enough, and it was a lightbulb moment," Grandbois recalls.

She decided that music -- something that touches everyone -- was the medium that would get people's attention. She plunged into organizing what she thought would be a one-time event.

That concert brought in more than $293,000. Since then, it's become an annual event that has raised more than $1.6 million for ALS research and support services. Tonight's concert will push it over the $1.8-million mark.

So why is it the last? "I honestly believe that to everything there is a season. I think it's better to leave people wanting more, and with very good memories.

"My time is limited ... the reality is, I'm getting weaker," says Grandbois, 53, who uses a wheelchair. "It's time to pass the torch and let somebody else do something similar to what I'm doing."

Grandbois is launching a national tour, while she still has the energy and physical ability. She will partner with provincial ALS societies to host nine concerts across Canada, starting with Vancouver in September.

"It's not me bringing my concert," she stresses. "I'm trying to give them the template to create what they want to create."

Her focus is on raising national awareness about ALS. Her message is one of hope and inclusiveness.

Thanks to funds from Elizabeth's Concert of Hope, the ALS clinic at McMaster University Medical Centre has been expanded and Hamilton has its own branch of the ALS Society, opened in 2002. The office helps about 100 families in an area that includes Brantford, Burlington, Oakville and Niagara.

Regional manager Sharon Babineau lost her husband to ALS and feels a very personal connection to Grandbois. "She's using her time and energy to make life better for other people in the future with ALS," Babineau says. "It's a very high needs illness."

The Concert of Hope money helps the ALS Society provide the equipment that allows people to stay at home for as long as possible. It enables ALS patients to keep their independence and get out into the community.

"Part of our success is people like Elizabeth, taking on the role of advocating and raising awareness and inspiring people," Babineau says.

Everyone who knows Grandbois admires her tenacity, her passion and the remarkable warmth she emanates.

"As a nurse I held people's hands while they were dying and I walked through this with families, but I didn't walk through it with a total understanding because I'd never been there," she says. "Now I understand."

Lynn Hood, diagnosed with ALS a year ago, is one of the volunteers on the Concert of Hope committee. She's drawn strength from Grandbois and they have supported each other. Hood says that only someone who has ALS can really understand what it's like.

Hood marvels over the tremendous job Grandbois has done in raising awareness and funding for ALS, in just a few years.

"She's taken on more than most people would in a lifetime."

For more information, go to elizabethsconcertofhope.com


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