The Wright way to give back

Anelia Wright, alumna extraordinaire

Anelia Wright, DIP(P TH)’57, BSc(P&OT)’58, is to receive a second alumni award from McGill University, this time, from the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy, where she studied both fields. (Photo courtesy of Anelia Wright)

By Philip Fine

Anelia Wright, DIP(P TH)’57, BSc(P&OT)’58, has never retired.

Trained both as a physical and occupational therapist, she still works part-time, limiting her practice to elderly clients. Having this dual background provides her with the rehabilitation skills to keep her clients as autonomous as possible and in their homes longer.

Her many years of volunteer work for McGill has provided valuable skills that has her working with many McGill associations and communities.

Wright is still very active, such as her volunteering with the McGill Book Fair and sitting on the board of the McGill Women’s Alumnae Association. She has been drawing people into the McGill circle with shared memories and mutual connections ever since 1972, when she began to fundraise for McGill as a class agent. That was when she chaired her 25th anniversary class reunion. She has since held the same role for the 50th and 60th reunions. She also worked as a Field Officer in the University’s Major Gifts unit in the early ’80s.

She was Associate Director of a $44-million campaign for the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) from 1988 to 1992, and took a leadership role in campaigns for the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and The Study.

Already a holder of the Distinguished Service Award from the McGill Alumni Association, she has now also been honoured by the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT) with its 2018 Alumni Award of Merit, which was presented at the Medicine Alumni Global Awards Ceremony over Homecoming this October.

McGill was in Wright’s life long before university. Her parents, who emigrated from Ukraine, held McGill as the gold standard for their children’s education. “I remember going to my brother’s graduation at McGill and my parents were the proudest they could ever be,” says Wright. “My future was clear.” In 1954, she enrolled as an undergrad in Science, specializing in Phys Ed.

After a year in the program, the diminutive student, who was studying alongside football and hockey players, feared that she didn’t have the right physique for her chosen career path. “You never hear of a small female gym teacher.” She had been inspired by the physical and occupational therapists she had observed during her time volunteering at the MCH. With a year of sciences under her belt and impressed by the program’s small classes, she applied to SPOT and got in.

She remembers her time at the School fondly and feels most fortunate to have been trained with both physical and occupational therapy skills. “You learned about the condition and then you learned how to heal the muscles, and then how to rehabilitate it with functions.”

Her working life began as a pediatric specialist with the MCH and the Mackay Centre.

As she was raising her two children, Wright had been working as a part-time physiotherapist with private physicians. She was widowed at the age of 40 and her mother moved in to take care of her daughter and son. She would end up returning to the Mackay Centre, where she had first worked. She would treat conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. “I found the Mackay Centre very rewarding. The adaptive facility really helps the children function well.” She learned the value of a team approach to disability, as she worked with nutritionists, neurologists, speech therapists and other caregivers. Her son would spend three years in the Mackay’s reverse integration program. “John learned to play hockey on a belly board.”

Today, she feels fortunate to still be actively involved in her field and keeping McGill graduates connected. “There is a very strong bond among my classmates. McGill holds a very special place for them, too,” says Wright, who adds that they made a huge effort to come back to their reunion, regardless of their physical limitations.

The university that was part of her parents’ dreams is now ensconced in her memories. “McGill has been a part of my world for so long that I cannot possibly think of my life without it.”



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