Tannis M. Richardson – lifetime of challenges, vignettes of my life

Tannis, along with her late husband George T. Richardson, were founding members of JDRF’s Winnipeg chapter (1971) and the city’s A Starry Starry Night Gala in support of JDRF. Tannis has also been on both the national and international boards for JDRF, which was formally established in Canada in 1974.

At 95 years old, Tannis is known throughout Western Canada for her exemplary community service and volunteerism.

While she always led a life of service, it was the discovery that one of their four children – their daughter Pamela – had type 1 diabetes (T1D) that found the family on the frontline of a battle they knew little about. Diagnosed at nine-years-old, they had to learn to manage a disease that was not well understood at the time, or well supported by Manitoba or Canada’s healthcare system.

It was because of this that the family became devoted to raising awareness of T1D and ensuring adequate supports for Manitobans living with the disease, something Tannis still does today with her support of universal access for diabetes devices and technologies through JDRF’s #AccessForAll program.

Sadly, Pamela died at the age of 29 from complications of diabetes. Shortly thereafter, Tannis and George were invited by Helaine Shiff, (another JDRF Canada founder) to attend the JDRF gala in Toronto.

“The gala in Toronto was a huge and lovely affair. The next morning, I phoned to tell Helaine what a wonderful job she had done – to which she responded, ‘that’s all very well Tannis, but what are you going to do in Winnipeg to help JDRF’.

I was at a dinner few weeks later in Winnipeg, and I was sitting next to (Regional Director, CBC Western Division) Donald Ferguson, when he asked me – what are we going to do in Winnipeg about JDRF. I replied who do you mean by ‘we’ – to which he replied CBC & you (Tannis). Due to this conversation we started to discuss what we could do. Eventually the idea came to us to have a gala.”

There were three other families in Winnipeg that were active and interested in what they could do to help fundraise for diabetes research, and together we formed a committee that organized Winnipeg’s first JDRF gala, A Starry Starry Night, named after one of Tannis’s favourite songs, and held on the plaza at City Hall. Today, nearly 35 years later, the annual gala remains one of Winnipeg’s premier fundraising events.

“I’ve seen so many changes during my time with JDRF,” says Tannis. “There is so much knowledge about diabetes now being publicized. It was slow coming, and with our high incidence of diabetes in Manitoba, it took a while before it started coming to the forefront. It was a slow start, but steady. And of course, the A Starry Starry Night Gala certainly helped a great many people realize what a challenge it was to have diabetes. It allowed us to show the public how life changing and life challenging T1D is, and why T1D research needs to be financed.”

Part of Tannis’ ongoing support came with the publication of her autobiography, Vignettes from My Life, which was self-financed so that 100% of the proceeds can go to JDRF.

“I remember so much of my life, what I’ve experienced and what’s happened – so it was suggested that I make an oral history of my experiences. I did that for a year with Janet Walker, (from the University of Winnipeg) but it evolved from there to thinking about putting it down on paper. “I guess I am a storyteller, and what resonated for me is that there was a purpose in telling my story.

Tannis met with Dorothy Ross, JDRF’s Director of Leadership Giving for a lunch, where they discussed JDRF, the pace of research and the Campaign to Accelerate. During this conversation Tannis informed Dorothy she would like to make a transformational gift in support of the Global Research Pillar, which will harness the work of world-leading investigators and trainees both in Canada and globally to make breakthroughs in areas of T1D screening, prevention, better treatment, and cures.

“There has to be something there that is going to be the breakthrough. Stem cell research seems to be the best thing that we know how to do, and if supporting the research monetarily helps us find a cure, we need to get the word out there,” Tannis explains of her reason to contribute to this area of T1D research. So many people feel that they are not able to donate, but if they realize that whatever they can give is a step forward, it all helps,” she explains.

“People feel we’ve been looking for a cure for a long time, but finding insulin was a game changing discovery. Once that one discovery was made, everything could come from that.  I feel that way about (T1D) research now – because it’s advancing so quickly. Today is the time to support it. If contributions are going to make that a reality. While we can’t foresee the future, for people with diabetes – a cure will mean their whole life will change. It will take a lot of work and struggle before they find the answer, I’m hoping it’s tomorrow.  At the age of 95 I hope I see it in my lifetime. I want to be part of it,” says Tannis.

JDRF is so thankful to Tannis for her remarkable contributions, and we are proud to announce her most recent generous investment in diabetes research during National Diabetes Awareness Month.

“There’s always a bright light in a challenge, and for me – it’s the wonderful people who are contributing who have enriched my life,” she says. ‘I feel very honored that I have met so many incredible people through JDRF. It is quite an organization – once you are in battle you realize that there are so many people who are working so hard to bring the end to and help us to finally win. The JDRF group are very special to me.”

A Year in Review: Why Advocacy Matters

Why advocacy matters

The driving force behind JDRF’s government relations and advocacy strategy is to help Canada’s decision-makers understand the impact of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and what needs to be done to improve the lives of those affected by the disease. We put T1D on the government agenda by actively participating in the legislative decision-making process and giving a voice to the most pressing issues facing the T1D community.

A year in review

In 2021, we set out to renew continued investments in T1D research through the JDRF-CIHR Partnership to Defeat Diabetes, expand access to the Disability Tax Credit and support the creation of a national diabetes framework. The federal government announced their commitment to all three of these issues in Budget 2021 and have set the wheels in motion for implementation.

Provincially, our Access For All campaign helped to increase access, affordability and use of advanced glucose monitoring technology with new public coverage in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In addition, expansion of insulin pump programs in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan mean more people can access these devices.

None of this work would be possible without our incredible and passionate volunteers. We are always building our grassroots advocacy network to be able to achieve Access for All for even more Canadians impacted by T1D.

Federal Accomplishments

  • Government of Canada renewed funding for JDRF-CIHR Partnership to Defeat Diabetes
  • National diabetes framework aka Diabetes 360⁰, improvements to DTC also achieved in Budget ’21
  • Bringing Breakthroughs to Life: Type 1 Diabetes Research Symposium draws 228 participants including Health Canada staff, researchers, clinicians, diabetes organizations, others.

Provincial Accomplishments

  • Access For All BC Online Community Consultations drew 128 participants (including a dozen BC MLAs) – All MLAs emailed a summary video with clips from the event
  • Presentations to BC Liberal and NDP Caucus
  • Expanded access to insulin pump coverage in two provinces – MB (to age 25) & SK (to all ages)
  • New CGM coverage in four provinces – includes MB (until age 25), SK (until age 18), QC and BC (all ages but w/ eligibility criteria & only one vendor)

There is still much work to be done, and our advocacy efforts, along with those of our T1D community, will continue to focus on patient choice, universal accessibility and improving lives today.

In her own words.

JDRF Advocacy intern Anne Pettigrew on why she volunteers

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM)! NDAM means something different to every person living with or affected by T1D. T1D is a very personal, individualized disease, and no two people with type 1 diabetes are exactly the same in terms of how they manage their diabetes, the diabetes technology they may use, or with their personal diabetes stories. We are all individual people who happen to live with the same disease. That’s why it makes sense that NDAM is meaningful to each of us in a slightly different way.

Personally, I feel like if there was ever a perfect time to get loud about T1D, it would be during the month that is devoted to raising awareness about diabetes. However, while November is a month where I get loud about T1D, it is also a month where I quietly reflect on my diabetes journey, how far I have come, and how far is still left to go. For me, NDAM is a time of pride, wonder, pondering, and grief – all at once. It is a rollercoaster of a month, and at times it can be a scary one to ride, but I look forward to it every year because it is – for me, at least – the perfect opportunity to advocate for T1D.

Advocacy is most effective when it is personalized to the advocate. This is especially true when the advocacy concerns something as individualized as T1D. For this reason, when I am talking about T1D with the intent to educate about it, I make sure to keep it very personal to me. I tell my story, speak to my personal experiences, and advocate for T1D issues that I care and know the most about.

That is not to say that any one of the several problems that people with T1D face is more important than othess. T1D is a multi-faceted, three-dimensional disease that demands so much from a person – financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, and with regards to time. – None of these demands are less worthy of being advocated for than another.

There are many equally important ways that T1D management could be made easier with increased support from the government, from communities, and from healthcare providers; but, with so many problems that need to be solved, it is too much for one advocate to take on alone. That is why advocacy needs to be personal – there are approximately 300,000 people with T1D in Canada, all of us with our own stories that deserve to be told, and all of us impacted differently by things like the price of insulin, access to medical technology, and the physical and mental burdens of living with this disease. One person cannot tell 300,000 stories in a way that will make a lasting impression; it is much more effective if we each focus on telling our own story

For example, I use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to make my management safer and easier, and CGMs are not covered by the provincial government in Ontario where I live. This personally impacts me and my diabetes story, so it is easy for me to get involved with JDRF’s Access for All campaign by talking to the Ontario government officials about why CGMs should be provincially funded. The trick to personalizing your advocacy is choosing a couple of key aspects of T1D to focus on and making sure those aspects are ones that are close to your heart.

A final way to make sure your advocacy is effective and impactful is to make sure you are advocating in a way that lets you stay mostly in your comfort zone – advocacy is personal to you, NDAM is personal to you, and T1D is personal to you. There is no one right way to get loud about T1D. It can be contacting your local government official to talk about T1D, posting on social media about T1D, or talking to your family and friends about T1D.

Whatever you do to mark this National Diabetes Awareness Month, however you go about your advocacy, and wherever you are in your T1D journey, JDRF is right here with you!

Anne Pettigrew, JDRF Volunteer and Advocate

Diagnosed two weeks shy of her 12th birthday.

Interested in becoming a JDRF advocate like Anne? Sign up here.

Thank you – everyone.

The Sun Life Ride to Defeat Diabetes for JDRF took place on October 7, 2021. For the second straight year, the Ride was a virtual event that offered a fun corporate team building experience all with the goal of turning type 1 diabetes (T1D) into type none. 

735 teams from more than 160 Canadian companies joined us to Spin, Sweat or Stretch throughout the day. 

The Spin session was taught by Spin Co. in English and French, Sweat session taught by F45 Yorkville for English, F45 Griffintown for French, and the Stretch session taught by Mula Yoga in English and Luna Yoga in French. We thank them so much for giving us their time and expertise and providing our participants with gym quality workouts they could do from the safety of their home. 

JDRF is thrilled to announce that over $1.65 million and counting has been raised at this year’s Ride to support T1D research. By participating in the Ride, you brought us closer to turning type one into type none. Together, we made a difference.  

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our sponsors, who helped make the Ride a success, allowing us to raise much-needed funds for T1D research. With their support, we were also able to offer an incredible day of high energy workouts and music, showcase inspirational stories through video and speakers, and provide more resources for T1D families.  

Sun Life has been a proud supporter of the Ride since 2017, and in 2019 they became the national title sponsor. Sun Life is committed to supporting the over 422 million people worldwide living with the disease.

And if you missed joining us on October 7, the virtual Ride environment remains open until December 15 with Spin, Sweat and Stretch sessions available “on demand” and sponsor booths are still open for participants to explore, download content or connect with by dropping their virtual business card. 

Link to the ecosystem: 

Thank you again to everyone who participated and to our incredible corporate partners.
We hope to see you all next year!