The mystery of White Rock Mayor Catherine Ferguson’s next career step is over.
The mayor – who has chosen not to run for re-election in next month’s municipal race – will instead become executive director of the White Rock South Surrey Hospice Society.
And she says she is looking forward to her new role guiding the organization, which provides emotional, practical and spiritual support to individuals, families and friends who are facing advanced illness or bereavement.
Ferguson’s appointment will be effective Feb. 1, on the retirement of current executive director Yvon Thibeault.
“He’s leaving some very big shoes to fill,” Ferguson told Peace Arch News Thursday morning, in announcing the appointment with Thibeault and society president Rick Singh at the Hospice House headquarters.
Ferguson paid tribute to the work Thibeault has done in three years as executive director, particularly in building awareness of the society, forging partnerships in the community and laying the groundwork for the 30 year-old organization’s next big step, building a planned hospice residence and supportive care centre adjacent to Peace Arch Hospital.
“I’m really excited to be going forward with the work that needs to be done,” Ferguson said, adding she feels she can use her own experience, and the many working relationships she has established in her time as councillor and mayor to the benefit of the society.
“We need to work with partners to be successful,” she said.
“I’ve always been a big supporter of the hospice movement since I first became aware of it in my mid 20s, when my mother died. I know first hand how important it is not just to patients, but also to families.”
The society now includes 300 volunteers, she noted, plus 10 paid staff, who annually achieve what it would take a private company millions to accomplish.
“It takes a very special person to care for people the way the volunteers do,” she added.
“I’m honoured to be chosen to be executive director – it’s important work,” she said.
“To be making a contribution to the community is something that’s important to me, because that’s who I am.”
Singh said Ferguson’s “profile, connections and commitment to the community” will be a great advantage to the society.
He said that although the board was aware Thibeault had been having discussions with a potential successor, they did not know who it was until this week.
“We were thrilled,” Singh said. “There was overwhelming support from the board. He was putting the society’s best interests first in terms of where the society needs to go, and we are very grateful for that.”
Thibeault said the appointment of Ferguson is particularly timely given the society is now moving into its 30th year with a major project – the residence and supportive care facility – on its agenda.
More details of that project will be released to the public at the society’s AGM, Tuesday Oct. 25, 7 p.m. at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 2350 148 St., he said.
Although Thibeault told Peace Arch News “nothing is set in stone,” a verbal commitment from Fraser Health staff indicates that it plans to make land available for the project, which would allow the society to realize more capital from sale of its current properties on Russell Avenue.
An earlier plan to build the facility on the current three parcels was judged to be premature, Thibeault said,
“It’s a three- to five-year project that is going to require a lot of work,” he said, adding that he is passing on to Ferguson his vision of a hospice facility that provides a high profile focus to the organization, as well as maximizing usable space for more residential care and support.
“We don’t have the space,” Thibeault said. “This place is bursting at the seams.”