Impact of Giving

Empowering accessibility

Author: Development and Donor Relations

Posted on Dec 14, 2023

Category: Creating Opportunities for Students , Donor Stories

In 2006, when Jim McLean (BScEE’70) and his wife, Rilla (BT’68, BA’70) were considering including UNB in their gift planning, they reached out to the Office of Development and Donor Relations to discuss a potential bequest.

Over the next few years, they worked together with development staff to create an award that was both meaningful to them and supportive of the diverse community of students at UNB.

The James and Rilla McLean Memorial Bursary, valued at a minimum of $8,000, will be awarded for the first time in September 2024 to at least one undergraduate student per year who demonstrates financial need. Preference will be given to students with mobility challenges, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.

Rilla was born with a rare genetic disorder, one of the side effects of which was sensory neuropathy. Her mobility increasingly lessened throughout her life until eventually she required the full-time use of a wheelchair. The wheelchair did not slow her down.

Two of Jim and Rilla’s volunteer commitments in Port Hawkesbury were the Strait Accessibility Awareness Committee, working to improve accessibility in the town and its buildings, and the Inverness-Richmond Society for Persons with Disabilities. They also gave their time to the Terry Fox Run, the Nova Scotia Trails Association, their church, and the local historical society and museum.

In 2000, Rilla was honoured with Canadian Airlines’ national award for her demonstration of the spirit of volunteerism. She and Jim worked tirelessly to increase accessibility in their hometown, and Rilla was passionate about creating opportunities for individuals with mobility challenges. “She was so determined to do anything for anyone with a disability,” said Rilla’s sister, Joan (Tapley) Cass.

Jim passed away in 2010, and Rilla in 2022. As one memory on Rilla’s obituary noted, “From her wheelchair, Rilla could move mountains.” The McLeans’ legacy will live on, at UNB and beyond, for years to come.

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