At 88, Vancouver business titan and philanthropist Joseph Segal has made a lot of speeches in his day.
On Friday, he had trouble getting through his latest one.
Standing at a lectern in front of family, medical professionals and politicians, Segal broke down when talking about mental illness.
“When people walk around with a heart problem, they walk a little slower. When they walk around with cancer, they walk around in pain,” he said, pausing as tears formed in his eyes. “When you walk around with mental health, you walk around alone.”
Segal, who says his family has never been affected by mental health, was in front of a microphone at Vancouver General Hospital to talk about the need for more mental health services in the province.
He put his money where his mouth was in a big way.
Segal and his wife Rosalie donated $12 million to help build an $82 million mental health treatment facility on the hospital grounds.
The donation is believed to be one of the largest ever personal gifts for mental health in Canada’s history, according to Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.
“Without your incredible vision and generosity, we actually wouldn’t be here today,” said MacDiarmid from the atrium of the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre at Vancouver General Hospital. “So a huge and tremendous thank you to you.”
When completed in the spring of 2017, the facility will be named the Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre. It will provide short-term, acute care to people suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychotic and mood disorders and drug and alcohol addiction.
One hundred private rooms will be spread over eight floors in the building that will replace a 70-year-old nearby mental health centre on 12th Avenue.
The provincial government is paying for $57 million of the tab with the Vancouver General Hospital and University of B.C. Hospital Foundation committed to $25 million, including the $12 million from the Segals.
After the press conference, Segal took a moment to answer a few questions from the Courier, the first of which asked why he was donating the money.
“Because nobody else did it,” he responded. “That’s the only reason. I felt that mental health was something that was invisible and you have to step forward.”
Added Segal: “The objective was to do something in an area that no one else was looking at — in an invisible area, in an area swept under the rug. So we lifted the rug.”
Dr. David Ostrow, president and CEO of Vancouver Coastal Health, praised Segal and his family for their donation and commitment to a facility that will be designed to “create a healing environment” for people with a mental illness.
“We’re aware that there are many competing needs within our community and we’re obviously grateful that you’ve chosen to support mental health services,” Ostrow said.
Segal is a Second World War veteran, an Order of Canada recipient and the former chancellor of Simon Fraser University.
He is the founder of the former Fields stores and one-time owner of Zellers. In 1979, he formed Kingswood Capital Corporation, a venture capital provider and real estate company. Segal sits on multiple boards of charities and businesses. He lives in Southlands.