The first week of October 2017 was one of Susan Malcolm’s most memorable. That was when, quite unexpectedly, she received notification of three separate bequests. She had been aware of only one; the other two were a complete surprise – they were people Susan had known but had never indicated their intentions to leave a gift in their will to the Foundation. In some ways, it felt like an affirmation of the work she had done over her twenty years. Several weeks later, Susan announced her intention to retire at the end of February 2018.
Until last year, Malcolm was the sole staff for the Foundation for 20 of its 30 years. What began as a part-time position grew into full-time work as the organization’s Executive Director.
“The workload was minimal when I first started,” says Malcolm. “I spent hours reading through meeting minutes to get a feel for the Foundation and what was done in the beginning. The capital campaign was before my time but it said so much about the nature of the organization and the people involved.”
In the mid-2000s the Foundation underwent a major transformation. “We wanted to broaden our scope to have a greater impact on health and wellbeing. To do that, we needed to figure out who we wanted to be.” The Aberdeen Hospital Foundation became the Aberdeen Health Foundation – it was a simple name change but a profound change in terms of message and vision.
The focus was now squarely on “health”, not just equipment for the hospital. It meant that the Foundation could direct dollars to wellness initiatives in the community in addition to hospital needs. New endowments were established, expanding the organization’s reach well beyond the walls of the Aberdeen. These were exciting times at the Foundation.
Malcolm says she grew with the job but there’s little doubt of the impact she made on those she has worked with.
“She is a wonderful lady,” says donor Donald Horne. “I worked with a lot of people in my day in the telephone industry. I have always been interested in how people treat others. I have found Susan Malcolm to be one of the finest people and leaders I’ve met. From the beginning I could tell that Susan really wanted to get to know me, to understand why I was giving and what was important to me as a donor. It meant an awful lot to me to be invited by Susan to come into the hospital to see my donation in action, to see the difference it is making for patients and staff. She has made me feel like I’m a part of the Foundation.”
As Northern Zone Director of Interprofessional Practice and Learning for Nova Scotia Health Authority, Nancy MacConnell-Maxner has worked with Susan for years, accessing funding from the Foundation for advanced training for staff. MacConnell-Maxner has always been impressed with Susan’s genuine desire to find ways to maximize the opportunities for staff within the criteria of the funding. “You can trust that she’s on top of whatever she’s working on. But more than this, she is genuinely very person-centered. She has the ability to create trusting relationships, one of the most important qualities of a leader in my view.”
Though she has overseen the transfer of millions of dollars from the Foundation for new equipment and enhanced health services for Pictou County, when asked what she is proudest of Susan talks about the people she’s met.
“I’m proud of the relationships we’ve built in the community and within the health authority. I’m proud of the board members who sit around the table and do so with the utmost care and attention to the needs of our community. They look after the money entrusted to us by our donors, ask the right questions, and use evidence to make decisions about how we can have the greatest impact on our community.”
And while Susan has been fortunate to cultivate and steward some very sizeable donations to the Foundation, it’s the donations from children who come in with their birthday money that hit her heart like a lightning bolt every time. “Seeing children being taught at an early age how important it is to give back; their gift means every bit as much to me. Sometimes people are apologetic about what they are donating but that is never what it feels like to me. There are so many good causes out there. I get such a feeling of pride and gratitude every single time a donor calls or drops in.” She goes on to mention the incredible impact of countless individuals and organizations, including the business community, that host fundraisers for the Foundation, many of them year-after-year.
The personal touch has always been Susan’s signature. She takes time to jot a handwritten note on every thank you letter; something donors regularly mention. For her part, she is thankful to be supported by a board that also understands the importance of this.
Susan’s success is in recognizing that every donor is a story. She has always felt that it’s her job to know their story and what brought them to that point. “Understanding what it takes for a donor to come into my office, maybe after they’ve lost someone and to be with them while they tell their story. I’ve sat and cried with donors. They’ve taught me about compassion and that everyone’s story is important.”
There is no one moment that stands out for Malcolm; it is more like a highlight reel marked with smiles. “Getting to see a staff person’s face light up when they are approved for a course, knowing that we value their work, or when I let them know a donor made a gift because of the care they delivered. Getting to see the expression on a donor’s face as they witness their gift at work and the impact it is having on staff and patients. My favourite part of the job is the connection I get to have with people. I will miss that.”
Malcolm is looking forward to having more time with family, including her husband, Marty, who just retired after a nearly 40-year career with Sobeys. And while she is ready for the free time that will come with retirement, she knows that remaining involved in her community will be important to her happiness. She is excited to see what experiences that might bring.
Susan Green and Susan Malcolm visit Kids First to see the new play-rich learning space in action, made possible with funding support from the Aberdeen Health Foundation’s CAS Endowment.
“Integrity, confidentiality, competence, and compassion are the qualities Susan has consistently demonstrated,” says Aberdeen Health Foundation past chair Susan Green. “She is the ultimate team player. Through her dedication and engagement, she inspires the confidence and pride of all stakeholders in the role they play to further the Foundation’s value and effectiveness.” The board has initiated a search process to select the best possible candidate to continue to build on the strong relationships that have been cultivated and to further the Foundation’s mission to enhance health care in Pictou County.
“She will be missed, but she leaves the Foundation in a position of strength thanks to her years of outstanding service.”