tennys hanson

Empowering philanthropy: Advancement leader Tennys Hanson recognized with Order of Canada

Sabrina Sy

UTM alumna Tennys Hanson (BSc 1974) received an email from the Governor General’s office requesting to speak with her, assuring her it was good news. One phone call later, she found out that Gov. Gen. Mary Simon was appointing her to the Order of Canada.

The former CEO and president of the United Health Network (UHN) Foundation received the designation Member of the Order for catalyzing health care and education in the fundraising sector.

“It’s pretty overwhelming to start with. It’s an incredible way to be recognized for the 40-plus years of my career.” 

Hanson’s UTM journey started during the campus’ earliest years, when it was still known as Erindale College with a population of 1200. The campus only had three buildings — North, South, and Colman House that housed the Blind Duck Pub. Principal Tuzo Wilson and his wife Isabel welcomed first-year students for afternoon tea at Lislehurst.

“The UTM campus at U of T was my first choice for university,” Hanson says proudly, “I really wanted to go there because it was small. It was a very personalized experience.” As a psychology student, she took advantage of Professor Mike Spigel’s impromptu office hours at the dining hall which is now known as Spigel Hall.

Hanson’s first job after graduating was as a High School Liaison at UTM. It was the perfect opportunity for the new grad to share her love for UTM with prospective students. As the campus grew, so did the need to build UTM’s position as a positive force in the Mississauga community. Hanson soon added community relations to her list of responsibilities. 

“I was lucky to be in a very unique position because I was connecting with people who are leaders in the community.”

While in community relations, Hanson interacted and volunteered with various Mississauga institutions like the Board of Trade. She credits this first-hand experience for helping her understand more about working with volunteers, a crucial aspect when she stepped into her first fundraising role in 1976 to raise $250,000 for the campus’ first scholarship program. 

Tennys Hanson in a blue business suit
Photo credit: UHN

“The starting point was all at Erindale, for sure. If I didn’t get into fundraising there, I might not have gone into the field,” Hanson reflected. UTM and U of T recognized Hanson for her steadfast contributions to the university community with the Paul W. Fox Award in 1990 and the Arbor Award in 2000.

In the following decades, Hanson stayed in advancement and worked between the healthcare and higher education sectors. After a stint at Mt. Sinai, she returned to U of T as Campaign Director of the Great Minds Campaign and Vice-President of the U of T Foundation before finally landing as CEO and President at UHN Foundation, previously known as the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation. 

Over the next 23 years, Hanson would take the UHN Foundation to new heights. Under her leadership, she raised $3 billion, rallied donors during the pandemic, and saw Toronto General Hospital rank as one of the top ten hospitals in the world, the only publicly funded institution on the list.

Hanson’s ability to connect the community to UHN’s vision has gained the trust of the foundation’s most loyal donors and volunteers, some of whom have become her good friends. When asked what moment in her career she was particularly proud of, she mused when philanthropist and friend Leo Goldhar entrusted her funds to establish the J. Douglas and Tennys Hanson Foot and Wound Care Clinic in memory of her late husband. After her retirement, the UHN also named a limb preservation research chair in her honour.

Foot care is an underserved area of health care, especially among diabetes patients. Without proper treatment, this may lead to problems like unnecessary amputation. “Now there's a lot more focus on that area of care, which will make a life-changing difference for the people who get better care and therefore don't need an amputation,” Hanson explains.

Hanson’s compassion, yes-we-can attitude, and deep belief in the causes she supports have made her one of the most respected voices in advancement even before the profession was recognized. Receiving the Order of Canada spotlights Hanson’s achievements, but she also stresses that it recognizes all the people involved in what she was able to achieve — her colleagues at UTM and UHN Foundation, staff, donors, volunteers, clinicians, and scientists.

After a whirlwind decades-long career, Hanson is currently enjoying her first year of retirement travelling the world before diving into any new projects. “It will be something in health care, for sure,” Hanson says enthusiastically.