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The CatalystConversations on Mental Health

Remembering Aimee LeBlanc

Aimee LeBlanc loved winter. She spent her honeymoon in the Yukon in late summer, freezing in the back of a pickup with a hardtop camper. Aimee and her husband Dan were a devoted couple who made the most of life’s adventures, big and small.

Aimee was as unique and multi-faceted as the snowflakes she welcomed with joy each season. It takes a special kind of person to face a cancer diagnosis with grace and courage, but that is exactly who she was. As the disease ebbed and flowed for more than a decade, Aimee never let its shadow dim her spirit or encroach on the work she felt called to do.

Her early career in social work shaped her belief that the kind of meaningful change required to lift people out of poverty and afford them greater opportunities needed to begin with policy makers. That led her to spend nearly ten years learning the ins-and-outs of mental health policy with the Ontario government, which would provide a solid foundation for her work with housing and homelessness

Armed with this depth of knowledge, enhanced by her earlier hands-on experience, she had no interest in pushing paper. She wanted to push the envelope. She believed in society’s obligation to uplift the vulnerable — a conviction that was matched by her quiet leadership and fierce tenacity.

Aimee never allowed her deteriorating health to have agency over her joie de vivre. She lived each day in thrall to nature’s wonders, and she and Dan wrung joy from the mundane and the miraculous. Aimee’s can-do attitude and innate dignity are qualities that have left her colleagues inspired to roll up their sleeves in tribute to her unflagging optimism.

An indomitable spirit and zest for life infused her worldview. Every community Aimee visited, whether in Newfoundland or Nunavut, was an opportunity to explore — on foot in her time-worn hiking books or in her trusty canoe, lovingly nicknamed “Herkimer.” 

Recruited by Dr. Paula Goering to fill the role of senior policy adviser with the MHCC, Aimee left her mark on Canada’s housing and homelessness policy through her contributions to At Home/Chez Soi. In a speech at the conclusion of the project, MHCC president and CEO Louise Bradley highlighted her extensive contributions.

“Quiet leadership is a quality Aimee has in spades,” said Bradley. “She always puts the work first. She never craves credit and she isn’t interested in limelight. What she wants, above all, is to see progress. To see people living with serious mental illness given the dignity of a safe place to live, and to support them as they progress in their recovery.”

Aimee’s work on the heels of At Home saw her channel her compassion and expertise into the crafting of Guidelines for Recovery-Oriented Practice. This commitment to recovery stayed with Aimee even in her final days. As she awaited emergency treatment, her concerns lay with a young woman experiencing a mental health crisis who was being restrained by hospital staff.

Aimee’s hallmark sensitivity and pragmatism can also be found in the earliest iteration of the MHCC’s national suicide prevention project, which blossomed into Roots of Hope.

There is broad agreement across the MHCC that Aimee’s signature capacity to bring grace and respect to all her interactions, no matter what circumstance or role, endeared her to colleagues and inspired the kind of creative collaboration that results in the most constructive solutions to the biggest policy challenges.

Near the end of her journey, in early November 2019, Aimee displayed her characteristic modesty when she shared that it brought her great comfort to reflect on “the privilege of playing a small part in the MHCC’s extensive work.”

Just as snow melts in spring, leaving behind nothing but memories of its shimmering wonder, in Aimee’s final message before her passing on December 14 she asked friends and colleagues to consider their impact on the world and to leave nothing behind but memories and their efforts to make the world a better place.

Aimee will be dearly missed, but her colleagues will honour her memory every day as they carry out the work that meant so much to her.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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