HIV/AIDS activist Evelyn Farha, who worked tirelessly as the honourary president of the foundation established by her son, has died.
She passed away of pneumonia on Thursday at 92 years old.
Evelyn Farha turned the death of her son Ron Farha into a crusade to help a community. He contracted AIDS in the 1980s and before his death in 1993--also of pneumonia--launched the Fahra foundation to help those with HIV/AIDS.
Upon his death, Evelyn took over the foundation, one of the reasons her daughter Linda admired her.
"I think that was a difficult thing for her, to accept that she had a son that possibly wouldn't be living that long and would possibly be dying before she did," said Linda.
Ron died in July 1993 and Evelyn immediately picked up the torch and continued his work.
"Putting all that energy towards helping others definitely had a consoling component to it but certainly it was very difficult for her."
The first Farha foundation walkathon took place in October 1993, and while Ron could never take part, Evelyn continued to walk in the event for more than 20 years, raising about $10 million for HIV and AIDS research, prevention, and education.
"The vision that he did have actually came to fruition because there were thousands of people filing the streets in support of the walk and in support of the cause, so his passion that was behind it came through," said Linda.
She spent years discussing the disease with anyone who would listen, from teenagers on the street, to sex education classes in schools, and to corporations.
"Our mum was an incredible woman. She was just a very dedicated mother, just loved her kids. Her life was her family," said Linda. "Family was number one."
Farha always hoped that research would be closer to finding a cure, and not just a treatment.
"His dream was to have a world without AIDS; that was his goal. So his goal has become mine, so I've got to continue. I can't back out," she told CTV in 2012.
Linda said her mother's compassion to those with HIV/AIDS helped change attitudes coming at a time when people with the disease were frequently shunned.
"She really became a woman that everybody would flock to. They would see her and say oh my god Mme. Farha, we want to talk to you, we've heard about you, and we've spoken to people who have spoken to you. She was really a magnet," said Linda.
She was also a trailblazer at a time when there was more fear about HIV/AIDS than compassion.
“In the late 80s, early 90s, people who had HIV or AIDS were shunned. No one would talk to them. Doctors wouldn't even see them,” said Farha Foundation president Harvey Cohen. “Everyone was worried they would get infected by the disease. And she stood up for her son's disease, saying it was just another disease, come and help him, come and help us.”
Her work also helped to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, added Ken Monteith, director of COCQ-SIDA, a coalition of groups working in HIV/AIDS prevention.
“It helped with the response in general because the foundation supported groups in all corners of Quebec and certainly talking about HIV and AIDS is the way to get past the stigma eventually,” he said.
Farha's dedication to funding research and education earned her recognition throughout the province and country.
In 2000 she received the Caring Canadian Award from the Governor General, and two years later the GG presented her with a Golden Jubilee Medal.
In the 2013 the National Assembly awarded Farha the Medaille de l'Assemblée Nationale.
"She will definitely be very missed," said Linda.