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Ray Desjardins with fellow members of the Barrhaven Legion and Foundation staff.

Honour and Care

As a way of honouring his convictions, Ray Desjardins has made a gift in his will to the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation. Throughout his life, Ray has had a deep respect and admiration for the men and women who serve their country in uniform – something he learned from his father.

“My father tried to enlist during the Second World War,” says Ray, “but as a foundry worker, he was ineligible to serve.”

Canada and other Allied countries recognized that maximizing industrial production was essential to the war effort. As a result, thousands of skilled labourers and factory workers were not allowed to enlist. For Ray Desjardins’ father, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

“My dad could only watch as many of his friends, as well as 14 members of his extended family, went off to war, while he worked 12-hour shifts in a smelter at LeBreton Flats,” says Ray. “Young soldiers in shiny new uniforms would taunt him when he walked the streets in civilian clothes or took my mother to a dance.”

Along with his factory work, Ray’s father also served the war effort as a volunteer with the St. John Ambulance, continually upgrading his first-aid skills and also qualifying as an air warden. After the war ended, Ray and his father attended Remembrance Day ceremonies each year. Some of Ray’s fondest childhood memories involve holding his father’s hand as the Veterans marched by.

“My Dad died at the relatively young age of 52,” says Ray, “Those long hours in front of a blast furnace surely took a toll on his body.”

At the age of 14, Ray joined the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (MG) as an army cadet. In 1957, he joined the reserves, serving the next eight years and eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant.

“My dad was fiercely proud to see me in uniform,” Ray recalls. “One time, I caught him polishing my boots because he wanted them to be absolutely perfect.”

Ray Desjardins went on to serve Canada in another way, however: as a professional in the tourism industry. For 35 years, he worked for the forerunner of the Canadian Tourism Commission, the federal agency that has helped to make the industry a mainstay of the national economy. As a young professional, Ray met and married Carolyn Himes. The two raised a son and daughter, moving from one foreign city to another as Ray’s career blossomed. By the late 1970s, the family settled in Ottawa, where Ray became Director of Marketing USA and the Americas.

Ray maintained his membership in the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa Regimental Association and supported the Association’s charity. Soon after he retired, Ray became active in the Royal Canadian Legion and eventually became President of Branch 593 Bells Corners.

“I would often sit and talk with Veterans,” Ray says. “You could see that many of them were still hurting from their wartime experiences, and I knew that I could help.”

To complement his volunteerism with the Legion, Ray became involved with the Perley and Rideau Veterans Foundation, and served a term as Chair of the Foundation Board. He played an important role in the successful effort to fund the construction of the 139 independent-living apartments for seniors on the Perley Rideau grounds. Veterans enjoy priority access to the apartments. Ray continues to visit Veterans at the Perley Rideau regularly.

“I want to make sure that our Veterans receive the care they’ve earned – the best way to honour their service is to ensure they get the absolute best care,” he says simply. “Carolyn passed away in 2011, my children are grown up and I now have two grandchildren. When it came time to update my will, I wanted to include not only members of my family, but also the men and women who served their country. It’s about honour and care.”

Ray Desjardins requested that his donation be used to fund the care of Veterans only. The Foundation will abide by Ray’s request, as it does for any donor who wishes to make such a designation.