March 28, 2022

Fellowship honours ‘giant’ of Calgary business, philanthropy and children’s health

New UCalgary fellowship reflects Charlie Fischer’s commitment to advancing health care through patient engagement
Charlie Fischer Fellowship
Charlie Fischer. Courtesy Joanne Cuthbertson

The Charlie Fischer Fellowship is grounded in the story of two remarkable families — the Fischers and the Findlays — lifelong friends and tireless community volunteers who have spent decades working to improve care and research for children. 

The fellowship began with a chance encounter at a doctor’s office in early 2020. “I was coming out and Charlie was going in,” Claudia Findlay recalls. “Even though we only had a few minutes to catch up, it was a very good conversation. A different conversation than I'd ever had before with Charlie. We shared our personal and family experiences with the medical system.

“I cry thinking of that day. I was so buzzed when I got home. I said to my husband, Randy, ‘We need to keep this conversation going,’” she says.

Claudia and Charlie continued the discussion with their spouses, Randy Findlay and Joanne Cuthbertson. “We came up with ideas to better include patient and family voices in health care decision-making,” recalls Claudia.

Charlie Fischer passed away shortly after, on June 17, 2020, “but we have other things to hold on to” says Claudia, referring to a family friendship that spanned more than three decades.

A lifelong friendship

Randy and Charlie met in 1988 while working at Encor Energy. 

“Charlie had this unique way of inspiring by example — getting people engaged in important initiatives while also walking alongside them,” says Randy. He was the one who encouraged Randy to volunteer for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“It takes somebody to tap you on your shoulder and say, ‘C’mon, you can do this, you can play a part here.' Charlie was that person for me,” says Randy.

The two families became close friends as Charlie and Randy served side-by-side on the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Board and Patrons’ Council. “Whenever we were together, we gravitated to talking about our families, and then we moved on to talking about the community. The things we could visualize and help make happen,” says Claudia.

“Charlie was a warm, caring person. Family was so important to him,” adds Randy. “Even though in the business community he was this giant, he was all about his family — his girls and Joanne. Then his community, and then the world.”

A founding member of the Dean’s Advisory Board in the Cumming School of Medicine, Charlie was the first chair of Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) Strategic Advisory Board. He was also a passionate co-chair of the campaign to build the Alberta Children’s Hospital at west campus – the first new free-standing paediatric hospital built in Canada in 20 years.

Leaders serving the community

Charlie Fischer and Joanne Cuthbertson, who served as UCalgary chancellor from 2006 to 2010, created the Cuthbertson & Fischer Chair in Paediatric Mental Health in 2007 to help build a collaborative program in prevention, early intervention and treatment for children’s mental health.

The Findlays walked a similar path, working as community volunteers for the RESOLVE Campaign to end homelessness, the Alberta Cancer Foundation Campaign, the Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary, Hull Services Foundation, and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“Our community is forever grateful for Charlie’s vision, compassion and leadership that spurred so many Albertans into action around so many important issues. As much as he accomplished as a businessman and philanthropist, it was how he did so — with such grace, wisdom and generosity — for which we will remember him most,” says Saifa Koonar, president and CEO of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

After Charlie Fischer passed away, Claudia and Randy Findlay set out to honour Charlie’s legacy as well as the impact he had on their lives. Through conversations with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and Dr. Susa Benseler, MD, PhD, director of ACHRI, the Charlie Fischer Fellowship in Advancing Patient and Family-Oriented Research was born.

Charlie Fischer Fellowship in Advancing Patient and Family-Oriented Research

Made possible through a generous gift from the Findlays, and matched by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, the fellowship honours the many contributions made by Charlie Fischer toward improving outcomes for children and families through research, education and care. Reflecting his strong support for child health research and his lifelong advocacy for patients and their families, the fellowship will support transformative research. 

“The awardee will conduct important research in partnership with health-care providers, patients and families,” says Benseler. “This gift, in many ways, is not only a gift of funding, but a gift of believing in us and our research community.

“The Charlie Fischer Fellowship allows us to nurture a culture of research and care that invites wider perspectives. It is the voice of children and families, of Charlie and Joanne, of Randy and Claudia and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, together saying ‘Pay attention to this’,” she says.

“We are listening and advancing in the direction that Charlie asked us to move toward.

“This fellowship represents Charlie’s, Randy’s and Claudia’s dedication to the Alberta Children's Hospital so it is super meaningful,” says Joanne. “It inspired me from the moment Saifa shared it with me. It will put research to work in ways that really mean something in children’s and families’ lives.

"This has huge potential to make an impact that would have really mattered to Charlie and represents the enormous friendship that Randy and Charlie had over many years.”

Susa Benseler is a professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine, a paediatric rheumatologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and holds the Husky Energy Chair in Child and Maternal Health as well as the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Chair in Paediatric Research. She is the director of ACHRI and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases and an associate member of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.

Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.