June 28, 2021 by David Gambrill
Editor’s Note: This article is Part 1 of a two-part story honouring the 25th anniversary of the Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade (WICC). Part 2 will appear in Canadian Underwriter‘s e-Newlsetter on Wednesday, June 30.
If Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade (WICC) ever needed an anthem song to commemorate its 25th anniversary this year, one obvious choice might be The Smiths’ 1986 tune, ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out.’
What started out as a $15,000 fundraising dinner that sold candles in 1997 has grown into a grassroots P&C industry philanthropic phenomenon. Twenty-five years later, the Canadian P&C industry now supports WICC’s fundraising efforts for cancer awareness, research and support to the tune of almost $1 million annually. WICC aims to raise a cumulative total of $25 million or more to fight cancer by 2025.
In honour of WICC’s 25th anniversary, Canadian Underwriter talked to five of WICC’s leading lights through the years. In this particular story, we will focus on the early efforts of just two of them — Mabel Sansom and Linda Matthews — whose efforts spearheaded the origin of WICC in the mid-1990s.
Tomorrow’s feature will include conversations with past and present WICC leaders Ellen Moore, Garth Pepper, and Marilyn Horrick, who will have more to say about WICC’s later development and its future.
How WICC’s candle got lit
At its core, WICC originated out of a desire by Sansom and Matthews to help out an industry colleague. In doing so, they had to battle against an existing social taboo regarding any discussion around a cancer diagnosis. Sansom clearly remembers the event that prompted the start of WICC.
“I was at an Institute dinner,” she told Canadian Underwriter, referring to the Insurance Institute of Canada. “It was an awards night. I was sitting at a table and a colleague at one of my Institute classes came up and asked if he could talk to me. He was taking his associate degree and he came up and he said, ‘Can I just talk to you for a minute?’
“I had no idea why, and I said, ‘Sure,’ and so we slipped away. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Back in those days, discussion about breast cancer was all very hush-hush. “That was the reality,” Sansom said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to be off having all this treatment, I might lose my job.’”
Sansom felt angry about the taboo surrounding cancer and wanted to help find a cure. When she came back to her table that night, she told a work colleague, “I can’t believe that we can’t do something.” The colleague suggested she put together a fundraising dinner. “And I was like, ‘Okay, game on.’”
Sansom immediately enlisted the help of Matthews, her friend and former work colleague. “Personally, you know, we just clicked,” Matthews said of her relationship with Sansom at the time. “We got [the fundraising] committee together quickly. And we brainstormed some excellent ideas.”
Thus, the first-ever WICC fundraiser was born in the spring of 1997. And in keeping with the organization’s name, ‘WICC’ fundraising from their premier event included selling candles.
“I still remember that first night of the dinner that we had, Mabel,” Matthews commented to Sansom in a discussion with Canadian Underwriter. “We were trying to get people excited about the idea of buying candles. After all of that work, Mabel and I sat down to have a drink after, and I think we raised commitments for $15,000. We were ecstatic.”
In the beginning, WICC was never intended to become a formal organization, much less a fundraising machine. But it got some help from the P&C industry along the way.
“I really felt that if we kept it grassroots that people would be much more willing to donate,” Sansom told Canadian Underwriter. “The industry just picked it up, and then the provinces picked it up.”
Soon, a candle light became a blaze.
Ultimately, after the first committee meeting in 1996, WICC was born, incorporating provincially in 2003. Over the past 25 years, regional WICC chapters popped up with fundraisers of their own. Right across Canada, people were picking it up, Matthews said of WICC’s momentum during the early days.
How did this spark become a blaze?
Tomorrow, WICC leaders will share their thoughts about the longevity of the organization, and where it’s headed.
Feature image courtesy of iStock.com/RuthBlack