By: Jennifer Friesen
As children growing up in the mid-1940s, Phil and Harriet Libin learned about the importance of giving back from their respective families. The couple’s parents, Saul and Sonia Libin and Leo and Goldie Sheftel, donated whatever time or money they could afford to people in need. As a result, Phil and Harriet began volunteering in their early teens — before they even met. Regardless of what the Calgary forecast had in store for them, they would each take to the streets with blue collection boxes every Sunday morning, fundraising for the Jewish National Fund of Canada.
“When you go out and get that quarter, dime or nickel, it gives you that sense of satisfaction in helping. My parents would never turn away someone in need, and I grew up seeing my parents give,” says Phil. “What’s the old saying: ‘Monkey see, monkey do?’”
Phil and Harriet first met as teenagers while attending Central Memorial High School in Calgary. The couple will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this year.
Today, the Libins are well-known as dedicated fundraisers and philanthropists in the city. They started the Phillip and Harriet Libin Family Foundation in 2009 to help support various local organizations and have often focused their fundraising efforts on the medical field. This past year, they donated $3 million to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, supporting breast cancer-related research and clinical trials at the new Calgary Cancer Centre.
With this state-of-the-art cancer centre opening its doors in 2023, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, in partnership with the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services, has launched the OWN.CANCER campaign to raise $250 million in support of enhanced research, treatment and care within the centre.
Raising funds for cancer care and research is a cause close to the Libin family’s hearts. In 2006, Sheryl — Phil and Harriet’s daughter, sister to Stuart and mother to Michael and Matthew — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Phil and Harriet went to every appointment with Sheryl at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. After an 11-year journey with cancer, Sheryl passed away from her illness in 2017 at age 55. “Sheryl has been gone for five years since May,” says Harriet. “I always said to Phil, ‘We have to find some way that will be meaningful to keep Sheryl’s memory alive.’ And, when the Calgary Cancer Centre came up, we thought it would be a perfect place because it’s meaningful for us and because we went through the process with her.”
In recognition of the Libins’ contribution, the Calgary Cancer Centre is naming its Knowledge Centre auditorium the Philip and Harriet Libin Auditorium. The space will facilitate meetings, seminars and conferences where medical professionals and patients alike will have a space to communicate and share research.
Phil and Harriet have raised significant funds for multiple causes over the years. Phil, who led a successful career in development and commercial real estate, has been a member of the Rotary Club of Calgary since 1989 and has served on the boards of various charities. Together, they’ve helped raise millions for local communities and causes.
“You do these things because you want to,” says Phil. “And because there’s a need for them.”