Penticton event organizer and community builder Laurel Burnham has died after her third battle with cancer.
In May, Burnham announced she was stepping away from her business, Okanagan Makers, after a physician’s order that she should fully retire. In a social media post she wrote that she was dealing with her third round of cancer. On Wednesday, it was announced that she died in her sleep on July 23.
As the director of Okanagan Makers, Burnham organized the Naramata Community Market, Summerland Rotary Sunday Market, an Artisan’s Christmas and Seedy Saturday’s. Burnham also was instrumental in Penticton’s Canada Day celebrations for many years, owned the Okanagan Upcycle Resource Society and was involved with the Penticton Arts Council.
“The work I have done is founded in my deep desire to develop community and small-scale (micro) economic development, as well as to nurture equal opportunities for women. It is so important to me that we bring the sacred back to commerce. Whether a loaf of bread or a great bowl of soup — sacred means having a component of community regeneration and connection,” Burnham had wrote at the time she decided to retire. “I humbly hope that my efforts and contributions at event organizing and building community have been worthy.”
Burnham was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and her positive and determined mindset helped towards getting her clean bill of health just one year later.
“I was given my diagnosis of breast cancer on Earth Day, April 23, 2010. My first thought was I may have cancer, but cancer does not have me,” Burnham told the Western News at the time. “I was determined to take as active and as positive a role in my own health and healing as possible.”
Friends and acquaintances have flooded social media with messages about Burnham and her contributions to them personally and to the community.
“Laurel graced and inspired us all. She brought people together. She made us think about our actions and choices. She was a big part of the evolution and positive transformation of this valley. I will miss her, as will many. Her legacy though, will live on and many of her dreams and visions for this community will be realized,” said Del Muzzillo.
Some called Burnham an ‘Okanagan icon,’ while others remembered her as a voracious and vivacious woman.
“There was never a dull moment when she was around, every conversation was such a wild ride and you never knew what to expect. Being in her presence was thrilling, often shocking, encouraging, hilarious, and always inspirational,” said Laurie Dee. “She made you question things, look at things differently, she was so passionate, and couldn’t help but shake things up. Being around her energy was always such a buzz. She was so much light, even through so much heavy and dark. She was all heart that friend of mine.”
A celebration of Burnham’s life will be held in the fall, a date and details are not available yet. In lieu of flowers, family and friends are asked to donate to the Penticton and District Hospice Society in her honour.
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