Family of Mersey Seafoods co-founder donates $4M to palliative care

A Liverpool family that made its fortune in the seafood business has donated $4 million to palliative care research in Nova Scotia.

New research chair position will be tasked with implementing best practices across Nova Scotia

Lisa Murphy lost her mother, father and brother within a three-year period, which prompted her to consider donating money toward palliative care. (CBC)

A Liverpool family that made its fortune in the seafood business has donated $4 million to palliative care research in Nova Scotia.

"The idea was really born after our experience with my mom's ultimately terminal illness," Lisa Murphy said Thursday in Halifax. "She had a stroke and then her recovery was not as terrific as one had hoped."

Murphy's mother, Janet, died in 2013. In the two years that followed, she lost her brother, Jon, to a years-long battle with cancer. 

In her brother's final days, Murphy said there was no space for him in the palliative care ward at the Victoria General hospital in Halifax.

"The way in which it all played out — it was not a good death," she said.

'What can we do?'

In 2016, Murphy also lost her father, Bill, who was co-founder of Mersey Seafoods.

As difficult as it was to lose three family members in the span of three years, Murphy said her family had the financial means to ease the suffering as much as possible through regular home care.

"Other folks don't have that," she said. "So what does that mean? What does that mean for people?"

Murphy and the J and W Murphy Foundation started talking to the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation about making some kind of donation.

"I said, 'What can we do and what are the ideas that exist out there?'" she said.

The QEII foundation introduced Murphy to the idea of helping set up an endowed chair in palliative care.

"We required a little bit of connecting the dots as to how a research chair can play out in making such a significant impact on the lives of real people, as opposed to the lives of academics," said Murphy. "We didn't want it to be an exercise in navel-gazing."

Halifax Hospice to receive funding

Dr. David Anderson, dean of medicine at Dalhousie University, said the donation will enable the QEII Health Sciences Centre and Dalhousie University to recruit a world-leading researcher who will implement best practices in palliative care provincewide and "transform scientific thinking, clinical practice and health-care policy — locally, nationally and around the globe."

The bulk of the donation will go toward setting up the endowed chair, while $1 million will go toward the new Halifax Hospice.

Dr. Drew Bethune, medical director of the Nova Scotia Health Authority's provincial cancer care program, said the endowed chair "will be critical in addressing one of our greatest needs in Nova Scotia."

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Preston Mulligan

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Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.

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