Peace of Mind

The love of a man and his fighting spirit inspire a woman in her life’s work. Battling brain tumours and perfecting the art of healing.


When Nancy Pencer’s husband Gerry, the CEO of Cott Beverages (the world’s largest private-label soft-drink maker), was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour in May 1997, Nancy fought to get him the best specialists, treatment options and support systems that modern medicine had to offer. In the process, she discovered a dearth of resources and information for brain tumour patients and their families.

“Gerry set out to change all that and, like everything he did, he was determined to do it big,” says Pencer. During his valiant eight-month battle, Gerry wrote a book, The Ride of My Life, and got the ball rolling on the creation of a world-class brain tumour centre at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH). When he passed away in February 1998, Gerry left it to Nancy to shepherd his dream to reality.

Nine months later, The Gerry & Nancy Pencer Brain Tumor Centre opened on the 18th floor of PMH. It is the largest multidisciplinary brain tumour clinic in Canada and among the largest in the world. Its mission is to make a difference in the way patients are diagnosed, educated and supported throughout their illness. As well as state-of-the-art medical care, there are support programs for patients and their families: psychiatry and social services, art and relaxation therapy, nutrition counselling, links to community support groups and much more. There’s also an active clinical trials department that is internationally respected for its groundbreaking research. Roughly 175 patients and their families use the centre weekly. (Ten thousand Canadians are diagnosed with a brain-associated tumour annually.)

A world apart from the sterile confines of a hospital setting, the Pencer Brain Tumor Centre is a refuge of art-covered walls, stylish furnishings and a penthouse view of the city. There’s a cafe stocked with beverages and snacks, plus fresh flowers that create a peaceful, welcoming and spiritually therapeutic environment.

Much like the centre that bears her name, Pencer is an elegant woman with a warm smile and a joyous energy. She encourages others through her enthusiasm and genuine compassion. “This is my life’s work, raising funds and awareness of brain tumours and helping people to get diagnosed faster,” says Pencer, who is the president and honorary chair of the gala fundraising committee for the Pencer Brain Trust.

And it’s a family affair: daughter Holly Pencer Bellman is executive director; she and her sister, Stacey Cynamon, co-chair the committee. Over the last nine years, the Pencer Brain Trust has raised $5 million for research, treatment and support services, through such events as the annual Pencer Brain Trust Gala. (For more, see