Patricia (Pat) Johnston is described by her loved ones as “a dynamic woman, soft and kind, but one didn’t cross her or tell her that something couldn’t be done, because you’d only fuel her fire and she’d find a way to make it happen.”
It is in fact thanks to Pat’s passion and tenacity that the Ronald McDonald House was built in Calgary in 1985, now serving between 200 – 300 families each year.
As a member of the Board of the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Pat went to a convention in Virginia in the early 1980s. A block away from where the convention was being held, she spotted a Ronald McDonald House and asked for a tour. When she returned to Calgary she said to the Board: ‘we have to do this.’
Pat’s daughter Trish Weatherup was born with spina bifida. Over the course of Trish’s lifetime, she’s undergone 20 surgeries in total – many of which took her far from her childhood home in Lethbridge, including trips to Winnipeg, Calgary, and Minneapolis.
“My Mom and I would go wherever we needed to have treatment, and my Dad and my sister would stay at home,” Trish recalls. “I remember worrying about Mom every single night when she left the hospital to go back to the hotel.”
Trish remembers her Mom saying: “’There’s got to be a better way for parents – there has to be a better outlet, some kind of hostel or shared living arrangement.’”
“She didn’t want other families to go through what she did. It was very lonely for her, and to go back to a hotel – that was a huge deal for a woman to be staying by herself in a hotel in the ‘60s.”
Fast forward to 1985, and Pat – who had gathered a dedicated committee of her peers together to get the House off the ground – saw her vision come to life.
“The thing about the whole committee was that everybody really wanted to make this happen,” Trish says. “They called it the ‘House That Love Built.’”
Pat was indeed an early advocate of family-centred care.
“You know how when a child goes into the Alberta Children’s Hospital, you can stay bedside with them as long as you like,” Trish explains. “Well, that wasn’t the case in the early ‘60s. They told my mother she could visit me once a week. And my mother said, ‘that’s not going to work.’”
“So, she parked herself outside the hospital administrator’s office and waited there until he saw her,” Trish says.
“She said: ‘This cannot happen, these children will not heal without the love and support of their families.’ It was taken to the Board and the policy was changed shortly thereafter.”
Trish remembers her mother doing the very best she could to balance her medical needs with the needs of Trish’s sister. “She felt terrible about leaving my sister behind – and this is the other reason she wanted the House, so that families could be together.”
“I believe there are no coincidences in life,” Trish adds. “And that she was meant to be my mother.”
Pat passed away in June of this year at the age of 94, but her legacy lives on daily in RMHC Alberta’s mission to serve families and to keep them together while they navigate their child’s difficult medical journey.
She will forever be remembered as a dear friend of the Calgary Ronald McDonald House.