Stories of Support

A proud son celebrates his mother’s remarkable journey to Canada

Having lost his mother Fatemeh to ALS, Vic alumnus Al Akdari (BA 2004) honours her wish to create a meditative space where others can find peace and strength.

“My mother had quite a journey in her life,” says Al (BSc 2004). “She was born in Iran in the early 1950s—the fifth of six children. From a very young age, she had an incredible aptitude for numbers and the hard sciences. She was determined to pursue her passion, and graduated with a civil engineering degree from Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi, one of the first women ever to obtain this degree.”  

Fatemeh Akdari Iraji’s love of numbers did not preclude her interest in people and community development. “She understood the importance of balancing hard sciences with the rest of yourself,” says Al. “After she immigrated to Canada in 1978, she developed a new passion for supporting immigrants and helping them adjust to life in Canada.”

In addition to devoting her time to community agencies such as the United Way of York Region, CultureLink and CHATS (Community & Home Assistance to Seniors), Fatemeh created community support for the Persian, Chinese and senior populations in Richmond Hill. In 2012, she was recognized by the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada for her tremendous devotion to the Iranian-Canadian community.

Creating a meditative space

In 2009, Fatemeh began to show symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.

“When my mother got sick, it was really difficult. But she was determined not to let it get in the way of living her life and supporting others,” says Al. “ She found peace and strength in nature, getting into gardening and spending time in parks. She appreciated having a meditative space where she could just sit and enjoy the environment.”

Near the end of her life, Fatemeh expressed her wish to create an outdoor space for others to enjoy, telling her son that she wanted a memorial bench situated near nature. “My wife Mara and I wanted to honour her last wishes,” says Al. “So when we learned about the Landmark Project, we thought, this is a perfect way to honour my mother and her remarkable life. And the fact that her bench will be located near the engineering library makes it all the more poetic!”

Revitalizing U of T’s Iconic Greenspace

Launched in 2015, the Landmark Project will renew 35,000 square metres of green space in the heart of the St. George campus. The planting of dozens of new trees and gardens around King’s College Circle—and throughout the whole project area—along with the replacement of existing roads and sidewalks with shared roads and pathways, prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists, will be among the most noticeable transformations.

Because people use Front Campus for recreation, flowering trees will be planted in clusters around the outside of the field and ensure that taller oaks and maples provide shade for studying and relaxing at the corners of the site. Small plazas and seating areas will offer a chance to take in the view.

Additionally, the University will create a new single-level parking garage under King’s College Circle that includes 50 charging stations for electric vehicles and additional bike storage. A geothermal field below the garage will both melt snow on roads and paths and help to heat the surrounding buildings, saving 15,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Creating family memories    

Al and Mara’s son Leo was born a little more than two years after Fatemeh passed away. “He never got to meet her, and obviously, he has no idea that this is all going on,” says Al. “But having this tangible link to my mother—his grandmother—is very meaningful to me. We live nearby, so we’ll be able to walk over to campus, sit down on her bench and tell him that even though he didn’t get to meet his grandmother, he’s still connected to her. The memories we’ll create as a family will stand the test of time.”

Interest in the Landmark Project continues to grow here in Toronto and around the world. More than 2,600 donors like Al and Mara are leaving their mark on the University’s historic core with commemorative gardens, trees, benches and pavers.

Join us in reimagining U of T’s downtown campus as an even more inspiring place to learn, live and work. Read more of our donor storiestake a look at the renderings and discover how you too can leave your mark!

Posted on November 23, 2020