May 3, 2023

The formidable woman who inspired RESTORE Network’s neurorehabilitation research

Steel-willed equestrienne Edith Rodie rode horses into her 80s despite painful spine disease
Philanthropist and equestrienne Edith Rodie left $4.7 million to the University of Calgary to support rehabilitative research, in part through the Calgary Health Foundation
Edith Rodie left $4.7 million to the University of Calgary to support rehabilitative research, in part through the Calgary Health Foundation. Art by Amanda Fisher, Cumming School of Medicine

A remarkable, independent woman and talented teacher with a sharp mind and heart full of compassion.

That’s how Allyson Jeffs describes Edith Rodie, a Calgary philanthropist, show-jumping rider, horse trainer, coach and leader in the Canadian equestrian world. Rodie lived in her own home until she passed away in 2016 at the age of 95. During her equestrian career of more than five decades, she taught hundreds of southern Alberta riders and was a successful trainer of hunters and jumpers. She was still saddling up to ride in her early 80s, despite heart problems and the onset of a painful spinal condition.

Rodie was simply unstoppable, says Jeffs, an Edmonton lawyer and executor of Rodie's estate. “Edie was one of the strongest women I've ever met. She never did anything halfway — if she was going to do it, she would do it well."

Transformative gift

Rodie left $4.7 million to the University of Calgary to support rehabilitative research, in part through the Calgary Health Foundation — a gift that fuelled the creation of RESTORE (REsearching STrategies fOr REhabilitation). The RESTORE network is a multi-institute initiative which includes the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, with ties to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine. The network was created to translate research into clinical neurorehabilitation to improve the cardiovascular, neurological and musculoskeletal health of patients with neurological disorders.

“We’re tremendously grateful to the donor for her visionary philanthropic leadership,” says RESTORE Network Director Aaron Phillips, PhD. “In just three years, the RESTORE Network has skyrocketed to international recognition through publications in the top journals in the world, numerous patents and other neurotechnology engineering and clinical trials changing the lives of people in our community.”

Allyson Jeffs

Allyson Jeffs

Courtesy Emery Jamieson LLP

An announcement to share RESTORE’S early successes was held on May 2. Jeffs spoke at the event.

“I got to know Edie because she taught me riding at the De Winton Equestrian Centre in the 1990s. I had ridden as a teenager and went back to it as an adult,” Jeffs says. “She was a marvellous horsewoman and a marvellous teacher.”

Early years

Rodie was born in Drumheller, Alta. in 1920. Growing up, she and her family struggled through the Depression, like so many others. By the 1950s, she had moved to Calgary where she lived a very independent life. She never married — but was “often courted,” Jeffs says. The savvy investor bought and sold horses and managed her own stock portfolio, eventually building a significant nest egg.

“She bought her first horse for a good price because it was so difficult to ride. The owner saw so many people thrown and saw Edie ride it and said, ‘I guess I had better sell it to you.’ That horse — named Crystal Cortez — went on to jump nationally and I rode its grandson,” Jeffs says.

Rodie was a nationally accredited show judge well into her 70s and volunteered her time with the local pony club, as well as with the Calgary Dressage Association and the Alberta Light Horse Association.

A passion for rehabilitation

Rodie persevered through serious health challenges. Because she rode horses over huge jumps, she suffered some concussions with significant impacts. Jeffs says Rodie had to relearn a lot of things after those injuries. She never stopped learning, even embracing computers and sending emails late in life.

“Up to close to the end she was as sharp as anything, directing what would happen to her investments and things like that,” Jeffs says.

Rodie also lived with an enlarged heart, which she worked hard to protect by deep water running six days a week. But it was a painful condition called spinal canal stenosis (SCS) — a disease that also causes slow but steady loss of strength in the legs — that eventually slowed her down when she was in her 80s. She was hungry for knowledge about SCS and scoured medical journal articles which Jeffs found for her at her university’s medical library.

Jeffs says Rodie would ultimately become one of her closest friends — a woman with indomitable resolve that she looked up to and still misses deeply.

"When I made the decision to go to law school, I was over 40. Edie was one of the first few people I took into my confidence when I was considering it. She thought it was a great idea. I said, ‘But I'm kind of old. She said, ‘Oh my goodness, if only I could be 40 again! I rode three or four horses a day when I was 40.’"

From Rodie’s own experiences grew her desire to leave a legacy of support for rehabilitative research.

“She knew a lot of people who were injured and she had her own injury issues. She wanted to help people — that was clearly her wish,” says Jeffs. “She would be proud of RESTORE’s work because even though she came from humble beginnings and didn't have the opportunity to go to university, she treasured knowledge like gold.”

The RESTORE Network harnesses the research strengths of UCalgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Libin Cardiovascular Institute, McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Institute and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. RESTORE also works in conjunction with health professionals in Alberta Health Services facilities. The RESTORE Network enhances the recovery and lives of individuals living with neurological disorders. Initiated by a transformational gift from the estate of Edith Rodie during the Energize campaign, and in partnership with the Calgary Health Foundation, RESTORE members are working collaboratively to evaluate and discover novel therapeutic interventions and conduct integrative clinical research in spinal cord injury, stroke and other movement impairments.

Aaron Phillips is an associate professor in the departments of Physiology and Pharmacology, Biomedical Engineering, Cardiac Sciences and Clinical Neurosciences and director of the Restore Network at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, and Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the CSM. 

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