Creating a Legacy for Joni

When I look back on my life, I’ve had a lot of fascinating, even exciting, experiences. But when it comes right down to it, I’ve learned it’s the little things that matter most.

For me, it’s been the enjoyment of a quiet life with the person I love most in the world, singing with friends and neighbours in a church choir and being part of a close-knit community that helps each other through difficult times.

Don Saunders smiles at the camera as he flips through a photo album with beautiful black and white images of his late wife, Joni.
Don Saunders remembers his late wife, Joni.

It’s the simple things like these that really matter. It’s about caring for your loved ones and creating cherished memories.

That is why I’ve decided to leave a gift in my will to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH). I want everyone in our community to have access to exceptional healthcare so they can continue to experience more wonderful moments with their friends and family. It’s my way of saying thank you.

Ever since I was a young lad growing up in Willowdale, I knew I wanted to be a performer. I was 13 years old when I landed my first role in a radio drama on CBC.

Just a few years later, I won a scholarship to study at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in England. It was the chance of a lifetime, and I couldn’t wait to spread my wings. I spent the next several years studying and working in London, performing musical comedy and appearing in TV shows.

But Canada has always had my heart, so after a while I came home and joined the Canadian Opera Company and the Stratford Festival. I also did some work with the comedy duo ‘Wayne and Shuster’. When they invited me to perform with them on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City, I jumped at the chance.

One thing led to another, and I ended up living in New York as a member of the Boris Goldovsky Opera Company. And that’s when my life took another incredible turn.

I remember like it was yesterday. I was waiting for rehearsal to start, and in walked the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was absolutely breathtaking, with fiery red hair, stunning blue eyes and the most incredible voice. She was to be my co-lead in the opera, La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.

Her name was Joan (Joni) Morcom, and when we sang together, it was magic. In 1973, we married and shared the next 38 years of our lives together.

Those were without a doubt the best years of my life.

Together, we travelled the U.S.A., coast to coast with various opera companies. We even created an act which we took to night clubs and on cruise ships.

Eventually, we both felt like it was time to settle down. We’d grown weary of big city life and wanted to put down some roots. So, we returned to Canada and found a home in the peaceful town of Churchill, about thirty minutes south of Barrie. It’s such a lovely and welcoming community, and we soon felt like we’d always belonged there.

Joni was multi-talented, and became well known for her portraiture, creating works for the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame, the Simcoe County Museum and other places. In the meantime, I continued acting and singing on stage and television. Together, we joined the local church choir and continued to share our passion for music.

But then Joni started forgetting things. Her portraits were taking longer to complete. We were both worried, so we made an appointment with a specialist.

Joni was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. As the disease progressed, it was heartbreaking to watch. She had such a love for life, and so much talent and beauty. To lose a bit of her every day was devastating.

My last production was Showboat at the Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. After that, I dropped everything so I could spend every day with Joni, right up until the end. Even in her final days, Joni always remembered music. We would sit and sing together, and she would lean against my chest and say, “I love you.”

And then in February of 2011, the love of my life passed away. And I knew I had to do something in her memory. How could I honour such an incredible, giving woman who had brought so much happiness and joy – not just to me, but to everyone she met?

That’s when I realized I want to ensure this kind of advanced healthcare will be available to others in their time of need, even after I’m gone.

Don Saunders

We’d already decided years ago that we wanted to leave our hard-earned savings to a worthwhile cause. Throughout the years living within the region, we’d both received excellent care at RVH. Shortly, after Joni passed, I hurt my back while splitting wood and had to be rushed by ambulance to RVH’s emergency department.

Even though I was in excruciating pain, the professional care team made me feel comfortable and put my fears at ease. The care I received was simply fantastic – they had access to advanced equipment, the most knowledgeable doctors and the kindest staff I’ve ever met.

That’s when I realized I want to ensure this kind of advanced healthcare will be available to others in their time of need, even after I’m gone.

Simcoe Muskoka is growing fast, and that’s putting a lot of demands on our regional health centre. And so I decided the best way I could give back to my community and honour my wife was to leave a gift in my will to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.

I know a lot of people my age wonder how they can provide for their loved ones while also contributing to causes they care about. From the people I’ve talked to, I’ve learned that making a gift to charity often reduces the amount of tax owing by your estate, which means even more can be set aside for your loved ones. It sounds like the best of both worlds to me!

Leaving a gift in your will is a highly personal decision, there’s no doubt about it. For me, the donation is a reflection of my values – of Joni’s too. And, I’m confident that RVH will make every dollar of my special gift count. I trust them to carry on my legacy and care for the people of Simcoe Muskoka.

Most importantly, I know my gift will make a real, lasting impact in the lives of others. And that’s something Joni would be very proud of, as a tribute to our love story.

Don Saunders

Proud Legacy Donor

If you would like to speak to a member of our donor advisor team to learn more about leaving a legacy gift to RVH Foundation, please contact 705.739.5600.