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Kelowna News

Former premier's battle with Alzheimer's inspires $9.1M donation from friend

Charles Fipke, left, with Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research Haakon Nygaard.
Image Credit: Brian Kladko, UBC

KELOWNA - Some good may have come when former B.C. Premier Bill Bennett developed Alzheimers disease; it inspired his long-time friend Charles Fipke—a Canadian diamond miner and philanthropist—to donate $9.1 million in Bennett's honour to the University of British Columbia to fund research into the disease.

Brad Bennett, son of the former premier attended a gratitude ceremony Tuesday, held to honour Fipke’s philanthropy to UBC, according to a press release.

“Our family is incredibly grateful to Chuck Fipke for this generous donation to Alzheimer’s research and we are very moved by his reasons for doing it,” Brad Bennett said. “The end game has to be to find a cure for this. We still don’t know what causes this disease and there are far too many people afflicted with it and far too many families like ours suffering the horrible consequences. They say with Alzheimer’s patients you say good-bye twice, the first of those being the most difficult because you’re saying good-by to the person you knew and loved while they are still alive.”

Fipke pledged $3 million toward a professorship dedicated to Alzheimer’s and $600,000 to furnish the professor’s lab with cutting-edge equipment at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health which is a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health and UBC Faculty of Medicine. The other $5.5 million will support purchase of the latest brain imaging technology.

Dr. Haakon Nygaard, the new Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research, has joined the Faculty of Medicine from the Yale School of Medicine. He will be seeing patients and conducting research in the recently opened brain health centre.

Fipke also pledged funds for a machine that combines positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The PET-MRI will enable Dr. Nygaard and other scientists to conduct studies that wouldn’t be possible using two machines separately.

“I was stunned to learn about Bill Bennett’s illness — yet another great mind stricken by Alzheimer’s,” Fipke said. “I want to do anything I can to help UBC’s researchers find a cure.”

Both Fipke and Bennett are from Kelowna. Fipke earned a bachelor of science degree in geology from UBC in 1973. He’s known as an entrepreneur and travelled the world for various mining companies. He became an expert on ‘indicator minerals’ after opening his own separation lab in Kelowna. He eventually struck out on his own.

Fipke’s geological discoveries made Canada one of the world's leading producers of diamonds. To date, Fipke has donated $17 million to UBC, starting with his first gift of $6 million in 2006.

Bill Bennett’s legacy as premier includes Expo 86, Skytrain, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, the Coquihalla Highway and the development of Whistler Resort and the Alex Fraser Bridge. He became a member of the Legislative Assembly in 1973 and was elected premier two years later. He was re-elected in 1979 and 1983.

Other well-known political figures with Alzheimer’s includes former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © iNFOnews, 2014

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