Lifelong volunteers are a rare breed. While approximately 50% of Canadians donate their time, energy and skills at some point, few show the passion, dedication and commitment to community that Marjorie Francoz has over nearly 40 years of helping others. In fact, Marjorie is so much the exception that she was recently awarded the Governor General of Canada’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.
A single mother of four, licensed pilot, painter and accomplished piano teacher who trained under Glenn Gould’s mentor Alberto Guerrero, Marjorie’s spinal cord was severed in 1979 during surgery. While rehabilitating in the Lyndhurst Centre and working hard to transition to her new life, Marjorie decided that feeling sorry for herself would yield absolutely nothing.
“Yelling about it doesn’t do anything,” she says. “What does help is time. It took me awhile to get my life back together. Then, seeing so many others at Lyndhurst – especially so many young people – I thought, if I can help someone, I will. So, I started encouraging people. The time right after an injury is so disheartening. I wanted to help people see a way forward.”
Marjorie’s primary message was empowering: you can create a new life. You design your future. Wherever you want to go, you can get there – and I will help you.
Marjorie’s greatest strength as a person and Peer Support Volunteer may be her tenaciousness. Understanding that the greatest challenges after a spinal cord injury are mental and emotional, she believes that how we respond to life’s roadblocks defines us, not the roadblocks themselves. Marjorie’s philosophy is that everyone can lead a fulfilling and satisfying life, which partly explains why she brought so much optimism to so many people.
When asked about her impact on others, Marjorie is genuinely modest in her estimation.
“There is nothing magic about what I do,” she says. “I know what it’s like to be in someone’s shoes. I know how many challenges they face and how frustrating it can be. I can offer people understanding and creative problem solving for life’s realities. Those are good things, and I know I have done some good. But I also believe that we can only really help ourselves. If someone’s life turns out well, it’s because they did the work.”
While it may be true that every individual is the architect of their own life, there is more to Marjorie’s magic than she acknowledges. There is the comfort of knowing that someone can help. There is the warmth of human connection and shared experience. There is the recognition that a person is more than their injury. There is the assurance that dreams – education, career, family, artistry – can be realized.
Perhaps most of all, there is Marjorie herself who, post-injury, continued to raise her children, paint and teach piano. Who sat on boards and committees and drove her van back and forth between Orillia and Toronto so many times. Who gave others as much hope as her time and insight. She may not have a magic wand, but Marjorie brought spirit and energy to everyone she helped.
“I would describe my mother as a force of nature,” says Dana Francoz. “She detests the phrase, ‘you can’t do it.’ No-one gets in her way. And she radiated a ‘you can do it’ message to everyone she helped. I remember one man who approached her at a Canadian Paraplegic Association event and said, ‘you were my peer supporter and you saved my life.’ He wasn’t exaggerating. They had never met, only talked on the phone. But he wanted her to know the impact she had on him, the care he felt.”
Sheila Casemore, Director of Client Services at SCIO, understands that impact. She describes the value of volunteers as immeasurable, and Marjorie in particular as highly influential and respected. “She is known for her honesty, her sense of community and her willingness to help. It is just part of her character to give, which has made her a gift to so many people.”
The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers is a tribute to Marjorie’s significant and sustained contribution to the SCIO community. It is well deserved and acknowledges the magic that Marjorie has brought to so many lives.
The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers recognizes the remarkable volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a wide range of fields. As an official Canadian honour, the Medal pays tribute to the dedication and exemplary commitment of volunteers.
Marjorie Francoz was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers on September 24, 2018, and presented with the Medal this past April during National Volunteer Week 2019.
Feature photo: Marjorie pictured wearing her Medal, with SCIO’s Director of Advocacy, Peter Athanasopoulos.