Remembering Mildred DeHaan

Mildred DeHaan, one of the early family leaders for deinstitutionalization in BC and a great friend of Spectrum, passed away on June 9, 2020, just a few days away from her 101st birthday.

Mildred at her 100th Birthday Party

We met Mildred in 1987, when we were setting up Spectrum’s very first home for four people who were moving out of Woodlands.  She attended a meeting with the four families in her role as family advocate and

helped to ease the families’ fears about their sons and daughters’ well-being as they contemplated this historic move.  It was the beginning of a decades-long relationship.  Mildred trained our first staff teams on the history of community living and the importance of family leadership.  Some of those staff are still working at Spectrum and credit Mildred with shaping their attitudes and instilling values that continue to guide their work.

Mildred supported many families through difficult transitions out of services that weren’t meeting their needs into smaller, more customized arrangements, always with an eye to collaboration and fostering mutual respect.  Much of what we do at Spectrum and particularly our focus on working in partnership with families was informed and inspired by Mildred.  She always seemed to show up at just the right moment, whether it was consulting with us on a new project, presenting to our teams, attending a planning meeting, or coming out to one of our many events over the years to support and encourage us.  She was a guiding force not only for Spectrum but for the community living movement in British Columbia, and beyond.  As Michael Kendrick points out, “many people in BC may not be aware of how well known and respected she was outside of BC, particularly in family networks.”

At Mildred’s 100th Birthday Party her family created these poster boards that told her life story.

Mildred began her career as a Social Worker in the 1940s.  She married and had three children including a daughter who was born with complex disabilities.  At age 12 her daughter went to live at Woodlands, where the family was told she would receive the specialized care that she needed.  This was Mildred’s introduction to the institutional system that she would eventually take a lead role in dismantling.  Mildred, along with a small group of other parents, started the Woodlands Parents group that was the genesis for the downsizing and eventual closure of institutions for people with developmental disabilities in BC.

In addition to working in a leadership role on the institutional downsizing projects, she co-founded the DBR Housing Society to create housing and supports for people who were deafblind, including her own daughter.  She sat on countless committees and boards over the next thirty plus years, well beyond her official retirement.

Her vision of community living and equality for all was unwavering.  “Always gracious and helpful and positive and honest,” to quote Aaron Johannes, Mildred earned the respect and admiration of all who knew her.  She challenged us to think bigger and do better.  “No mentor could have been, for me, more beneficial in my work in this field,” says Aaron.  We couldn’t agree more.

See Mildred in action!

Mildred is featured in this video at 7 minutes and at 42 minutes.  The focus is on the planning for Norman and Tom to move from Woodlands to a home in the community in 1981.

Mildred’s obituary is in the newspaper (The Province, Sunday June 14, 2020 and the Vancouver Sun on June 20, 2020) and provides many more details of her interesting life. Our condolences to Mildred’s families and friends.


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