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Why Give | Impact stories

Supporting spinal cord research becomes a family affair

It’s difficult to imagine finding the courage to think about others when faced with a life altering injury, but that’s just the sort of person Allan Northrop was.

After sustaining a significant spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down, Allan Northrop named UBC as the beneficiary of his RRSP and TFSA accounts creating a generous legacy gift for spinal cord research at UBC.

When Allan passed away from complications related to his condition in 2013, he did not have a will. His RRSP and TFSA, not part of his estate, came directly to UBC. His estate was split among his siblings—Colin Northrop, Edna Combot, Mike Northrop, Linda Ellwood, and Phillip Northrop. Allan’s brothers and sisters did an extraordinarily generous thing: they decided to honour their late brother’s memory by donating their inheritances—almost $150,000 each—to further the cause of spinal cord research at the University.

“We thought that’s what he would have wanted,” says Linda. “We knew about his gift to UBC, and it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Born in 1949, Allan was the youngest child of Geoff and Joyce Northrop. He grew up in the town of Ruskin and attended Silverdale Elementary and Mission Secondary before enrolling at Simon Fraser University, where he studied geography. In the summers, Allan worked on a forest fire suppression crew. He was also employed by Vanderpols Eggs Ltd., where he was respected and well-liked by his coworkers.

“Allan was tremendously active,” explains Phillip, who acted as the court-appointed executor of his brother’s estate. “He enjoyed traveling and was an accomplished recreational cyclist. Sadly, that’s what led to the injury. In 1999, he fell while trying to avoid a pedestrian who stepped into his path.”

Despite the tremendous challenges he would face, Allan continued to live independently in his own home. He grew vegetables in his garden and adopted a frugal existence that allowed him to invest his savings. His hope was to one day make a significant gift to spinal cord research.

“That’s just what Allan was like,” says Linda. “Even after the accident, he rarely asked for help. He was a creative thinker. He’d figure out how to do things and then go ahead and do them. He even raised the beds in his garden, so he could get around in his wheelchair.”

“Allan chose UBC as the recipient of his gift, because he trusted the university,” says Phillip. “He knew that a cure probably wasn’t something that would happen in his lifetime, but he thought maybe he could help someone like himself in the future. That’s what he hoped. Even if it was too late for him, he knew a discovery would eventually come— and it will.”