For a little over three weeks last year, Langley artist Murray Phillips sat at his wife’s bedside as she lay dying of cancer.
Together, the couple spent Betty Phillips’ final days looking back at 46 years of marriage — talking quietly, reminiscing and, occasionally, sharing a laugh.
Those days, said Phillips, were a gift.
At times enjoying the company of her whole family, at others, sharing private moments with her husband, “Betty lived her dying well,” said Phillips.
It was the one thing she’d asked him to help her do, after learning she had a terminal illness.
“I can’t think of anything I wish I’d said to her, or anything I wish she’d said to me,” Phillips said.
“I can’t call them good days, but they were certainly rich days.”
Those precious conversations were possible, he said, because of the care Betty received through the Langley Hospice Society.
“With quiet efficiency and supportive care, the nurses and doctors took care of Betty’s physical needs, making sure she was as comfortable as possible,” Phillips wrote in a letter of support for the Langley agency.
A little more than a year has passed since Betty died, and while the memories are still raw, Phillips is focusing on fulfilling a promise he made to her in her last days.
Before she passed away, Betty expressed a desire to somehow give back to the Langley Hospice Society for the professionalism and kindness shown to her and her family.
Phillips suggested an art fundraiser — an idea which she wholeheartedly embraced, he said. And so last September, the painter best known for his depictions of Canadian wilderness, introduced the “Remembering Betty” edition of The West Fine Art Show, to raise money for the Langley Hospice Society.
Held for the past four years on the South Surrey ranch of former Canadian Senator Gerry St. Germain, Phillips’ three-day exhibit, featuring the work of artists from across Western Canada originally served as a fundraiser for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.
But with hospice now taking such a prominent place in his thoughts, Phillips has redirected his efforts.
“I have such high regard for what they do,” he said.
“It’s so important in this culture to have support and care for people in this situation.”
When the senator’s property was sold shortly after last year’s show, Phillips began looking for a new venue and it only made sense, he said, to find a space in Langley.
This year’s exhibit opens at Thunderbird Equestrian Show Park in North Langley on Friday, Sept. 5 and continues to Sunday, Sept. 7.
Phillips’ overall goal is to raise $100,000 for Langley Hospice Society.
Last year’s event netted $20,000 for the charity, but Phillips would like to see that number increase to $25,000 this year.
The entry fees paid by participants are used to cover the costs of mounting the exhibit, but the artists are asked to donate 25 per cent of their sales to the cause.
This year’s show features work by 19 established artists — including Phillips — as well as by four newcomers who Phillips is excited about introducing to the community.
“We had some artists who were emerging last year and now they’re making a living (through their art),” he said.
Among some of the best-known painters whose work will be on display at Thunderbird, meanwhile, is Alberta’s Kim Penner, renowned for her equine art. It is the first year that Penner has been involved with the show, and Phillips pursued her specifically because of the new horse-related venue.
A Tofino-based artist, Mark Hobson is best known for his passionate portrayals of the wildlife and landscapes of the Canadian Pacific coast.
“From pounding surf to misty coves, from rain forests to the underwater realm, the careful use of light is always present enhancing subtle drama in his work,” reads his profile on the exhibit’s webpage.
“These are two artists who will draw a lot of attention,” said Phillips.
Also participating are several of Phillips’ fellow Langley artists, including Brian Croft, Lalita Hamill and Carmel Clare.
The show begins with an artists’ reception on Friday evening, Sept. 5, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Once again, Red Robinson returns to officially open the show.
A pancake breakfast, hosted by Shell Busey, will kick off day two, with the exhibit open from 9 am. to 4 p.m., featuring music by John Gilliat.
On Sunday, Exit 58 will perform. Doors open at 10 a.m. that day, with the show wrapping up at 4 p.m.
Thunderbird Show Park is located at 24550 72 Ave.
The event offers free parking and admission.
Visit westart.ca or langleyhospice.com for more information.