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Veronica MacDonald, pioneer of seniors’ services, succumbs to cancer.

The woman who launched social services for seniors in the townships succumbed to cancer July 1, leaving behind a legacy and some big shoes to fill. The founder of what would become Community Care Concepts, Veronica MacDonald was 54.

“She was it when it came to developing services for older adults when there were none in the townships. These are services that wouldn’t exist without her,” said Irene O’Toole, a longtime colleague and friend, who was working in a similar capacity in Waterloo when MacDonald started what was then known as Woolwich Home Support Services more than a quarter-century ago.

“This is a huge loss to the community support service sector.”

O’Toole, who retired last year, has been acting executive director of the agency since MacDonald took a leave to deal with her illness.

“The agency has been working in a holding pattern for a few months, hoping Veronica would be back,” she said.

Now, its board will have to decide what comes next in absence of the only leader the agency has known. O’Toole said MacDonald has created a strong organization with 15 employees and a host of volunteers – others will pick up where she left off.

“Her work will continue. We will continue to do the work Veronica left for us.”

Community Care Concepts of Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot runs a wide variety of programs geared toward seniors and disabled adults with the goal of keeping them in their homes for as long as possible.

Unlike other larger communities where there are separate agencies that handle different aspects of care, Community Care Concepts has it all under one roof. It offers everything from assisted transportation that provides volunteer drivers to seniors for things such as medical and health appointments, to homemaking services where assistance may be provided for laundry, cooking, and general cleaning. A friendly visiting program ensures that those in need have contact with a regular guest to socialize and the inside and outside maintenance service helps fix small household problems. As well, there is a seniors day program, an Alzheimer’s program and Meals on Wheels.

The wide array of services exists because MacDonald saw a need, and worked tirelessly to make sure individuals didn’t go without help in the community, said O’Toole.

“She wasn’t afraid to try things that hadn’t been done before. In fact, if it hadn’t been done, that was a reason for it to be done.

“She wanted to make sure the very best services were available here.”

Those efforts paid off for local seniors, with policies MacDonald pushed for resonating at the regional, provincial and federal levels, said Don Harloff, who, as executive director of Woolwich Community Services, worked closely with her for years.

“Veronica was really passionate about services for seniors. She spent a lot of time advocating for the rights of seniors and the programs that seniors deserve.”

Facing many of the same funding issues at his own agency, Harloff recognized the tireless way MacDonald fought for her clients.

“It’s a constant struggle to meet the needs of the people and to get the money to fund those programs. As dynamic as Veronica was, she just stayed at it … always with a pleasant personality.”

MacDonald is survived by her husband Glenn Toner of St. Clements; her daughter Michelle Relic (Tom) of Waterloo; stepdaughters Lisa Toner (Brian Voisin) of Breslau, Erin Toner (Mark Jones) of England; sister Sandra Beisel (Ross) of Arthur; and brother Neil MacDonald of Drayton.

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