Alberta Cancer Foundation

Robert (Bob) Dixon: A Lasting Legacy

Caption: Robert (Bob) Dixon left a $10 million estate gift to the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Illustration by Robert Carter.

Robert (Bob) Dixon passed much to the next generation, including advice, perspective and potential. Throughout Bob’s life, a mantra remained at the core of nearly everything he did: “Attitude is everything.”

“I don’t remember him ever being down or showing us that he was feeling anything but positive,” says Dixon’s daughter, Sue Rasmussen. “That was his outlook on life, and he hoped he could spread it.”

A born Calgarian and prominent CEO in the Alberta oil and gas industry, Dixon lived with Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the last 25 years of his life after receiving a diagnosis in the early 1970s. His own experience guided his philanthropy, and he served as co-chair of one of the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s first capital campaigns, Project Alpha, from 1988 to 1990. The campaign helped raise funds for the Southern Alberta Cancer Research Centre at the Heritage Medical Research Building near the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. Its underlying goal was to conquer cancer by providing the necessary resources to researchers in the province.

Today, 25 years after Dixon’s death in 1995, his legacy lives on through a game-changing gift to the Alberta Cancer Foundation — a $10 million donation from his estate, presented in his name in 2015, following the passing of his wife, Kathleen (Kay) Dixon.

“The Dixon family’s generosity is unprecedented for our foundation,” says Alberta Cancer Foundation manager of legacy giving, Christy Soholt, who acts as a liaison between the organization and the family. Soholt says that the donation represents the largest estate gift in Foundation history.

The donation was left in the hands of the Foundation to find appropriate use, with the guideline that it stays in the realm of hematologic oncology research or education to pay tribute to Dixon’s experience with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Foundation chose to use the money to fund potentially groundbreaking research in the field, with a call going out to researchers in late 2018 for funding proposals for the newly minted RK Dixon Family Award in Hematologic Oncology Research.

“We wanted to go out to the community and seek out the best projects with the biggest potential,” says Soholt. “[Something] scientifically sound [that] will make the most impact for patients facing cancer and will have a great impact in Alberta as well.”

So far, five projects have been approved for funding through the award: a study exploring self-administered chemotherapy options at home for patients (read this article to learn more); a Canada-wide study into alternative treatment to reduce bleeding after undergoing autologous stem cell transplantation treatment for blood cancer; a study identifying early predictors ahead of blood stem cell transplantation to avoid relapse that is potentially untreatable; a clinical trial aimed at reducing the debilitating and sometimes deadly graft vs. host disease (an attack of the transplanted immune cells against the recipient’s tissues) for bone-marrow transplant patients; and a study into breaking down barriers that prevent blood cancer patients from accessing palliative care earlier on.

Illustration by Robert Carter.

These projects are just the beginning of potential change that may come thanks to the RK Dixon Family Award, with Soholt noting that more funding is still available for future proposals.

“With any sort of generosity from donors, but this size in particular, we’re able to now provide the opportunity for exploration to begin, and some of it could lead to very transformational change for anybody facing a diagnosis,” says Soholt. “[Researchers tell us that] ideas are plentiful, the potential is great — they just need the funding in order to test things out and try new things.”

Through it all, the Foundation has worked to maintain the family connection to the award, with Rasmussen taking part in reviewing proposals for projects submitted for funding.

“These estate gifts are gifts from families,” says Soholt. “Because it was such a significant gift with the potential for transformational impact, we want to make sure that we include everybody who is involved.”

Rasmussen says involvement in the process has helped her feel closely connected to the change that’s being created thanks to her family’s gift. Along with Dixon’s four grandchildren, Rasmussen says she’s proud to see the legacy her father created live on and continue to foster positive change.

“This helps me feel connected to him. He passed in ’95 and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him,” says Rasmussen. “Being included in the review process makes me feel like I’m there for him. As his daughter, I’m proud to see how it’s being put to use.”