At first glance, one is immediately struck by the obvious integrity of Betty Riel, as if it were somehow inscribed in her aura. It’s no wonder people regularly knock on her door to present her with a cheque for her foundation or even knitted goods to be sold at an auction somewhere in the Haut-Saint-Laurent… After all, volunteering is at the heart of this exceptional woman. It is her way of life, to spread love and hope.
Elizabeth Jock was born in the United States and spent her youth in Fort Covington, near Dundee. At the tender age of 14, she began helping her grandmother who was caring for the parish priest. At 17, she met Gilles Riel, a young 18-year-old Québécois. It was love at first sight. They fell madly in love with each other, got married and settled in Huntingdon. That was 59 years ago.
Five children then arrived in quick succession to cement their union. “With all these kids, it was important that I became involved with school committees,” she recalls.
“That was the essence of my volunteer work while my children were attending school. I also worked several jobs, including 23 years at the local pharmacy, which I remember very fondly.”
To celebrate their 60th birthday, the couple decided to embark on a month-long voyage on motorcycle. “We went to Alaska, a little ride over 20,000 kilometers round trip,” she says with a smile. “As I wasn’t driving the bike, I just sat in the back seat. You could say that we reached the ends of the earth together.”
As the years passed, the couple began to notice they were losing a lot of friends and acquaintances to cancer. In 2005, with the help of Claude Pilon, a local notary, she created the Betty Riel Foundation with the goal of raising funds for the transportation of cancer patients to Montreal hospitals for their medical treatment. At the same time, the foundation partnered with SABEC, an organization that coordinates volunteer drivers for this purpose.
Over the past 13 years, the Betty Riel Foundation has provided the equivalent of over $ 200,000 in transportation services to cancer patients living in any of the 13 municipalities that make up the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent. Each year, the Foundation organizes a number of activities to raise funds for this cause, which remains so close to her heart. This summer, the Foundation is inviting the public to register to participate in, or sponsor, the annual Triathlon set to take place on August 25 in the Châteauguay Valley.
Last year, Betty lost her husband, who died while fighting an aggressive cancer. He was, more than ever, the great love of her life. “He never failed to tell me how beautiful I looked,” she said, her eyes suddenly tearing. “I admit that’s what I miss most today!”
And so it now falls on the population of the Haut-Saint-Laurent to remind her: “Betty Riel, you are a beautiful person.”
Translation: Sarah Rennie