Mike McClay standing with his wife, two young kids and dog in front of a forest and mountains.

Legacy of Mike McClay

Inspiring purpose from pain

A uniquely beloved Calgarian

Mike, or ‘McClay’ as he was fondly called by many of his friends, was an outgoing, positive, and loving person who went out of his way to say hello to everyone. He was a devoted husband and father who treasured his family more than anything. He was also a dedicated friend and colleague who always had everyone’s back. Mike inspired many as he became an avid skier, snowboarder and local hockey legend following an amputation to remove his leg. He was kind to everyone he met and his contagious enthusiasm for life had a deeply positive influence on the community — the profound impact of which, sadly, he would never know.

Mike McClay in the snow, smiling with his arms stretched out, holding a snowboard.

Mike McClay was an outdoor enthusiast who enjoyed skiing and snowboarding at Baldface Lodge near Nelson, BC.

Mike McClay and Trevor Johnson taking a happy selfie while at a hockey game.

Trevor Johnson (left) shared a 30-year friendship with Mike McClay and knew he had to honour Mike’s life by saving others like him.

Transforming tragedy into positive action

On October 22, 2021, Mike passed away, just shy of his 50th birthday. He had taken his own life. Mike’s best friend of more than 30 years, Trevor Johnson, says Mike’s suicide was an absolute shock. “We were trying to find anything that was out of the ordinary, but we were at a complete loss,” says Trevor, who had been set to have dinner with Mike the evening he died. The only potential link Mike’s devastated family and friends could make between the man they knew and his tragic death was, perhaps, lingering trauma from a severe concussion Mike had suffered after a fall from a ladder two years earlier. They turned to the University of Calgary’s renowned Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) to search for the answer.

I am one of the fortunate people to have called Mike McClay my friend and that is a special club to belong to and it’s huge. Mike made an outsized impact wherever he went and he never stopped accumulating adoring fans of “McClay”. News of his passing shocked a vast network of people so it’s no surprise that we’ve rallied unbelievable support for our partnership with UCalgary to create MIST as our legacy project for Mike. Our commitment to invest in research, clinical trials and community outreach has been supercharged by the world class calibre of the team at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, for whom we are grateful to share our passion for our friend. We are doing this work because we don’t want anyone to lose a friend the way we lost Mike.

Headshot of Trevor Johnson

Trevor Johnson

MIST Champion

Mike McClay hugs his golden retriever while they both look at the camera.

Mike McClay with his beloved golden retriever.

Deepening understanding of physical trauma and mental health

With an aim to prevent such tragedy for others, Mike’s family and friends decided to channel their grief into honouring his tremendous impact on their lives by saving others. This led to them partnering with the HBI to launch the Mental Health Initiative for Stress and Trauma (MIST). MIST was created to explore the impacts that emotional stress and physical trauma have on the brain and what can be done to create better outcomes.

Mike McClay’s legacy will help change the face of neuroscience research and save lives by destigmatizing the effects that stress and trauma have on the brain, and their impact on mental health and psychiatric illnesses.

Saving future lives

To set this initiative in motion, a committee was formed and a campaign began to invite support for MIST. Mike and the circumstances of his death touched countless people who loved him, and Community Champions quickly stepped up with generous contributions. The momentum created by those founding donors led to tremendous support from the community during UCalgary’s 2022 Giving Day campaign. MIST took the top spot in a record-breaking Giving Day: 153 donors raised $175,000 for MIST and, combined with the Giving Day match, the final total was more than $300,000.

Thanks to these early MIST champions, the program surpassed $1 million in philanthropic support in its first year, catalyzing important developments including the induction of Dr. Matthew Hill as the first MIST Chair. Now, after only its second year, the program has raised nearly $5 million.

Trevor Johnson and Lindsey McKay stand beside each other, with a group of people on either side. Trevor is holding his Community Champion Award.

Founding MIST champions and UCalgary team celebrate as Trevor Johnston wins the Community Champion Award for Giving Day 2021. From left to right: John and Carol Anne Lapointe (Mike McClay’s mom and her husband), Dr. Jaideep Bains, Andrea Morris, Lindsey McKay (Mike McClay’s widow), Trevor and Jody Johnson, Hails Kirker, and Dr. Eric Hyndman.

Trevor Johnson and Mike McClay cat skiing with a group of friends. Everyone is wearing black or white furry snowsuits and sitting on a snowcat.

Trevor Johnson (top left) and Mike McClay (second from bottom right) enjoyed cat skiing with friends at Baldface Lodge near Nelson, B.C.

Andrea Morris, Associate Vice-President and Chief Development Officer at UCalgary, says, the creation of MIST and this new chair position is a true testament to the power of philanthropy. Community members responded to this tragedy in such a powerful way and the University of Calgary is proud to be a part of this transformative mission.”

MIST is a living tribute to Mike and his legacy of kindness and care for others. With continued philanthropy and community support to advance the program’s reach and impact, MIST will create deeper connection between research disciplines and treatment modalities. MIST also has the momentum to help raise awareness and empower people to act on their own mental health — and to honour Mike by saving others like him.

Mike is one of many—and it is one too many.

Headshot of Dr. Matthew Hill, PhD

Dr. Matthew Hill, PhD

MIST Research Chair

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