Ken and Sheila McArthur

Posted by in 2019 Spring/Summer

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Giving Back to the Next Century:

Philanthropic Couple Supports a New Generation of Nurse Practitioners

Ken and Sheila McArthur

Shallow breathing, fever, fingertips that turn blue. Pneumonia can be frightening at any age, but Ken McArthur’s lungs had turned infectious not once but twice—before the age of six. “Without my mother’s dedication,” he says, “I’m not sure I would be here today.”

Photo by Martin Dee


In his eighties now, Ken speaks reverently of his mother, Elizabeth McArthur. In 1917, she graduated from the Calgary General Hospital School of Nursing, before working in an Alberta county hospital. She was not only a highly skilled nurse, Ken says, but also “the strongest, most independent woman I have ever met.”

Sheila and Ken McArthur recently chose to honour her memory with a gift to UBC. As part of that generous one million dollar donation—one half of which will be directed to the Sauder School of Business, Ken’s alma mater, and the other to the UBC School of Nursing—the couple has created the Elizabeth McArthur Memorial Bursary in Nursing. The remainder will support the Ken and Sheila McArthur Fund in Gerontological Research.

Interestingly, the gift falls on the Centenary, the 100th anniversary of the UBC School of Nursing. And, in another coincidence, the doors of the school opened in 1919, just two years after Elizabeth McArthur’s graduation.

“At my age, you think back on your life, you reflect,” Ken says. “My mother was a supportive person, and we wanted to acknowledge her, fundamentally, for that reason.”

Ken’s life began in Burnaby and Sheila’s in nearby New Westminster. After graduating from Simon Fraser University, Sheila moved to Montreal, Quebec with her teaching degree in hand, but her lack of bilingual status kept her from the classroom; she quickly found rewarding work, though, at the Westmount Library in the children’s department. Ken, meanwhile, followed his graduation from UBC with a career in finance, eventually assuming the role of Senior VP of Nesbitt Thomson Inc. and CEO of Shurway Capital Corp., his own private investment company.

“I’ve learned that it’s much easier for business schools to attract donations than nursing schools,” says Ken. “And I am biased towards supporting things that are underfinanced. That seems to be one of my personality quirks.”

With Canada’s aging population expected to double in the next 25 years—a segment that, in just seven years, will comprise one-quarter of the population—the expertise of Nurse practitioners (NP) is needed more than ever. The province has been, until recently, slow to bring NPs into the healthcare system. While Ontario has, according to the BC government, only 20 NPs for every 100,000 people, and the Prairie and Atlantic Provinces 16, BC has even fewer: only 8 per 100,000. Recognizing this shortage, the BC government has funded 200 new Masters of Nursing-Nurse Practitioner (MN-NP) positions, including 15 for UBC.

While this is certainly promising for nursing grads, student costs—escalating Vancouver rent, sky-high tuition rates—have risen to $30,000 per year, which may dissuade even the keenest, most qualified students from leaving full-time jobs to earn their Master’s degree. The Elizabeth McArthur Memorial Bursary in Nursing, however, will alleviate some of that financial queasiness by providing recipients of the endowed award with $12,000 per year in perpetuity.

“Without these bursaries, some of our most talented nurses would be unable to pursue the advanced education to become NPs,” says Elizabeth Saewyc, Director of the UBC School of Nursing. “And Canadians would miss out on extraordinary NPs who can provide expert primary health care for people of all ages.”

The dearth of NPs isn’t the only issue related to Canada’s aging population that concerns the McArthurs. Having made lifelong donations to researchers who study everything from Arthritis and brain health to Alzheimer’s and juvenile diabetes (a condition that runs in the McArthur family), the couple has also devoted a portion of their recent UBC donation to gerontological research. And the gift is admirably open-ended: The Ken and Sheila McArthur Fund in Gerontological Research will support Masters and PhD students undertaking a range of gerontological nursing studies.

“It’s actually hard to pick a disease (to fund), and so we thought of things whose end date we couldn’t anticipate,” Ken says. “I’ve learned that trying to predict the future isn’t easy.”

The couple divides their time between Florida and their home on Bowen Island, in Howe Sound. Eight years ago the couple fell for the latter locale, although it lacks a healthcare centre, unlike Galiano Island, an adjacent island near Victoria with a similar demographic. “Unfortunately, 24-hour emergency services aren’t available,” says Sheila. “So if someone needs stitches or breaks an arm they must take the water taxi to Vancouver.” And so the McArthurs are supporting the proposal—and hopefully construction—of a healthcare centre on Bowen Island. Having spent their lives in cities like Montreal and New York, they took healthcare for granted, the couple says, until they moved to a rural area.

It was a rural area, actually, to which Elizabeth, Ken’s mother, moved to pursue her nursing career over 100 years ago. After she married, though, she and Ken’s father moved to the city of Vancouver and Elizabeth left nursing. “It was a long time ago, and my mother,” Ken says, “followed the traditional role of looking after her family. It was a very different world back then.”

Undoubtedly, Elizabeth McArthur would be surprised to have an endowment at a nursing school named after her. “Yes, she would be surprised,” says her son, “but I think she would also be grateful.”

Read a further article on the McArthurs at the Sauder School of Business site.