Three sisters, three incredible lives: Jean Pigott, Grete Hale, and Gay Cook

Grete Hale, Gay Cook, and Jean Pigott

“Stay involved”. It was one of the last messages their father told them, and a lesson that Gay Cook and Grete Hale have lived to the fullest. They – along with their late sister, Jean Pigott – have dedicated their passion, talents, and generous hearts to the betterment of the Ottawa community.

We are honoured to count these incredible sisters as champions of our Museums.

They credit their generous spirit to their community-minded parents. Grete fondly remembers how her mother encouraged her first volunteering experience: she brought her then 13-year-old to help pack relief boxes for Britain during the Second World War. Grete notes that it was in that moment that she realized “how meaningful volunteering work is” and how “one person could make a difference”. She has devoted her life to volunteering, serving with over forty volunteer organizations, even receiving the Order of Canada in 2006 for her work, and notes that she has “loved every minute of it”.

Gay and Grete remember their father as an equally generous community leader. They describe him fondly as a “wise old man” who encouraged them to use their “horse sense” – the type of common sense he learned growing up on a farm in Pontiac – and to remain committed to their community. Grete notes that when they were often overwhelmed with requests from charities, “[they] always gave what they could” and that he taught them that “it’s always important to give.”

Gay, Grete, and Jean have carried these lessons with them throughout their own volunteering and community involvement. In addition to serving as the President and Chair of the Morrison Lamothe Bakery, Jean Pigott was a Member of Parliament and the Chair of the National Capital Commission; she became an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of her trailblazing work in politics and community development. Among her many achievements, Grete helped found the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation, CANHAVE Children’s Centre, and the Friends of the National Library of Canada (now Friends of Library and Archives Canada). Gay has been a powerful voice in the culinary world and advocate for food education, especially in her work with organizations like Algonquin College, Bon Appetit, the Ottawa Branch of the Canadian Culinary Federation, and many more.  She has been a strong supporter of the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, helping found the Baskets with Panache! fundraiser in support of access to farm-to-fork education for underprivileged children, and offering her culinary skills for special community events.

The sisters’ connection with the Museums began early on. Their family’s bakery – the Morrison Lamothe building on St. Laurent – became the Canada Science and Technology Museum in 1967.  As pleased as the sisters were to see the bakery transformed then, they are even more eager to see this legacy carried forward with the Museum’s renewal and reopening in 2017. Grete says that “the secret for Canada’s future is to welcome change”, and that the new Museum is a wonderful step to showcase and inspire that attitude.

Recalling the journey of Morrison Lamothe, Grete reflects that “nothing comes easy, but you stick together as a team”, and how that lesson is “a lot like what you’re going through with Museums.” But we have nothing to fear, because – she adds with a smile – “we’re on your team!” With the support of such incredible sisters, the future of the Museums – building from its rich history – is bright indeed.