See original article on The Times Colonist.

A $6-million bequest from a Courtenay woman took members of the Comox Valley Community Foundation by surprise.

“It was one of those jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments,” said Norman Carruthers, the foundation’s president, on Friday. “This is just amazing.”

Catherine Mary (Mamie) Aitken died in January at age 93. She left her estate to the foundation to split between North Island College students, the Comox Valley Hospice Society, St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation, and the various groups supported every year by the community group.

“It’s going to make a huge difference in the community for decades to come,” Carruthers said.

In 20 years of operation, the foundation had managed to accrue a $5-million endowment fund. Aitken’s gift pushes the total to $11 million.

The foundation distributes grants annually to organizations supporting people with developmental disabilities, distributing scholarships and bursaries, and providing recreation, arts and social services.

At North Island College, full tuition will be paid every year for 25 students, starting in September 2017. This is the college’s largest-ever donation.

College vice-president Randall Heidt said they are “awed by her generosity.”

“Imagine what this means to high school graduates working to pay for college and parents struggling to pay bills, raise families, and retrain for a new career,” he said.

John and Elizabeth Aitken arrived in Vancouver in 1910, moving to Courtenay two years later. They raised their daughters, Mamie and Cherry, in the community. Cherry predeceased Mamie.

The sisters worked to establish the Soroptimist International of Courtenay Club, an organization dedicated to helping other women. It supports a wide range of community groups as well, including the local hospice,a counselling society, transition society for women, and more.

Mamie Aitken had worked at CFB Comox’s civilian personnel department until retirement. She was single and did not have children.

Longtime family friend John Roxburgh, 93, used to go dancing with Mamie four nights a week, enjoying foxtrots and waltzes, until her health problems ended that activity.

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