What is a Legacy? Leaving Your Mark

– by Janice Henshaw –

A question that can give us lots to think about is “How will we be remembered? The New Year is a splendid time to think about our legacy, and to remember the gift of legacies past and legacies that shape our current world. Legacies can be thought of in terms of love and respect, caring, teaching, art, storytelling, music, or artisanship. Legacies live on through family members, students, and communities.

Leaving a legacy can be about property and money, certainly, but it can also be so much more, particularly when one considers the emotional impact a legacy can have. Susan Bosak, Chair of the Legacy Project, suggests that “The giving and receiving of legacies can evoke, all at once, the entire spectrum of basic human emotions: hope, longing, regret, anxiety, fear, dread, jealousy, bitterness, rage, a sense of failure, a sense of accomplishment, pride, contentment, joy, gratitude, humility, love.”

Palliative care volunteer Angela Rolfe describes the legacy from her dad, Ken Knapton. Ken was born and bred in Yorkshire, and proud of it. “My dad had many sayings, which when we were younger we probably just raised our eyebrows to; however, with age comes gratefulness and a clearer understanding of the lessons he taught us, not only through his sage advice, but also through his example.” Two of Angela’s favourites: “Live each day as though it is your last and treat your fellow man as though it isn’t, and accept your friends for who they are, not who you would have them be.”

Gordon Benn, Chair of the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Foundation, describes his response to the legacy question. “As a lawyer, when I am asked about legacies, my mind usually turns to the legal definition: a gift of property, especially personal property (often money), by will, also known as a bequest. However, as I become, shall we say, mature, I have begun to think of the other, more intangible definition. describes it as “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.” It is human to wish to be remembered, and I share this wish. If I could pre-determine my legacy, it would be to have left our community better than I found it – richer in caring (particularly with regards to health) and uplifted by music.”

We sometimes hear of substantial monetary legacies in the news, and they are indeed admirable. However, even without a chequebook, anyone can leave a legacy. Consider the gift of time and values. We give of both when we volunteer to help community organizations such as the Peninsula Streams Society, which focuses on ecological restoration and education. Or how about the Rotarians, who provide humanitarian service to encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world.

Dr. Allan Cahoon, President and Vice-chancellor, Royal Roads University, describes his belief in the legacy provided by education. “I have seen firsthand how education is the great social equalizer and an investment not only in the individual, but in society as well. Education creates opportunity, opens up the promise of our knowledge economy and results in more engaged citizens who are happier, healthier, with higher self-esteem and able to be more effective contributors to a sustainable future. I would hope that my legacy would be that I supported and enabled RRU to build the knowledge capacity of our graduates to succeed personally, to lead and to make positive changes to their communities, their workplaces and to society.”

The opportunity to be a part of a lasting legacy in one’s community is one of the main draws for Sidney Mayor Steve Price who has been involved in local politics for seven years now. He believes that when you participate in something that touches other people’s lives, you receive in turn a feeling of meaningful contribution. “One such project for me is the Sidney Food Bank. I played a large role in bringing that project to fruition and it is now a cornerstone in the community serving 1,000 people a month across the entire Peninsula. Of course, I would like to see a day when the need for foods banks is obsolete, but until that time, it is good to know this project continues to make an impact.”

Now is a good time for all of us to think about our legacy, to consider if there is more that we can do, but also to appreciate what we have already contributed. There is no way of knowing how many lives we have touched. As Mother Teresa advised, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.” Who really knows the potential of how far one’s gifts can spread to others, how they can be built upon and metamorphose?

It is also a time to be grateful to others, young and old, to those who have come before, and to those who are silently working right now, often behind the scenes, to create new legacies of caring, commitment, and community.

As Dr. Seuss said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

To learn more about Janice Henshaw visit

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