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Whistler loses leader in community services

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Cancer claims Jill Ackhurst on Dec. 27

Only three months ago Gillian Ackhurst and her husband Peter were counting down the days until their trip to Tanzania.

This wasn’t going to be an African holiday lounging on white beaches next to the Indian Ocean. Instead, they were going to help set up a home for street kids in Dar Es Salaam, where about 17,000 kids live on the streets.

The project was called "Vijaliwa."

But they would never make it to Tanzania to help those kids.

Jill’s chest infection, which was originally thought to be pneumonia, was diagnosed as cancer in early October, just days before the trip.

After battling the disease for three months, Jill Ackhurst died in her sleep on Saturday, Dec. 27 at Lions Gate Hospital. She was 57 years old.

"Jill’s motto was to live through the service of love," said one of her closest friends, Sue Lawther.

"She wanted to see the world at peace and she was going to do everything she possibly could (to see that.)"

Jill and Peter were planning to spend at least a month in Tanzania to help get this project off the ground and spread some hope in a place where there was little hope to go around.

This was just the tip of the iceberg in a life that was dedicated to community services. Jill was the chair of the Whistler Community Services Society, an active member of the Whistler Rotary Club, an adult educator with First Nations, in addition to various projects like "Vijaliwa."

Friend William Roberts, who was asked by Jill to fill in at the Whistler Village Church two years ago, calls her a pillar of the community.

"She was a person who knew how to put her faith into action, locally and globally," said Roberts.

"She was just hugely committed to the church as an institution, but beyond that I think she knew that true Christian faith was one that didn’t sit comfortably by while people suffer. It committed her to taking action."

Lawther, who met Jill at UBC in the ’60s where they were both studying home economics, remembers that when most people were concerned about frat parties, drinking beer and being flower children, Jill and Peter were different.

Upon graduation in 1968, the couple went overseas as volunteers to Africa, and then to Chile, and so began their adventures around the world together.

"She and Peter were totally focused on community service," said Lawther.

In the mid-70s when they returned to Canada the Ackhursts bought a lot in what was to become White Gold in Whistler. It was just a piece of land in the middle of nowhere at that time.

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