Celia has extensive experience working in the not-for-profit sector and volunteering for many organizations over her 21 year career. She spoke to Katherine Fenech about her decision to join the Foundation in her retirement.

Like many others, Celia Harms found the Tim Griffith Foundation through personal tragedy. Her youngest son Jonathan died after taking medication for a migraine.

Celia, her husband Terry, and sons David and Adam, were heartbroken and confused by Jonathan’s death, and pulled together in their grief. Jonathan had struggled with migraines from the age of five, which doctors prescribed ever-growing doses of opiates to control.

“He really suffered from opiate addiction from a very young age, and they just didn’t have better treatments in those years,” Celia said. “It wasn’t until he was in his 20s and went to the Stanford Pain Clinic, that neurologists did an intervention to detox him and start him on more modern and effective pain medications, that we felt that his body got to detox, and the medications weren’t addictive. But I’ve seen the terrible ramifications of doctors just using opiates as a quick fix for patients in pain.”

Jonathan was 29 when he traveled to Cancun for a vacation and had run out of his US-prescribed injections. Then a migraine began to take hold.

“So he went to a brick-and-mortar pharmacy, and he bought migraine medicine, but what they sold him was Fentanyl. The pills looked exactly like Norco, which is an opiate, but he was in so much pain that he needed something to help him try to get through to get the plane home. He even checked the pills on the internet to be safe and confirm that they were Norco by the color, size, shape and imprint as they were manufactured to look exactly like Norco. But they were Fentanyl, and it killed him, because it’s so much more powerful than morphine. Jonathan never knew that the pills were Fentanyl and even the coroner originally identified the pills as Norco.”

A grief counsellor initially introduced Celia and her husband Terry to the Foundation’s Meadowlark Retreats, to give them the opportunity to share their story with others who had experienced the death of a child.

“Meadowlark was the first place that I had gone where I didn’t feel like I was contagious,” Celia said. “It’s a very safe and nurturing community…. We’ve been surprised that [the grief] hasn’t gotten easier as we’re approaching the second anniversary [of Jonathan’s death]. It took us eight or nine months  to actually find out exactly how Jonathan died, because it takes the coroner a long time to get all the results. The grief has changed but it hasn’t lessened.”

The Meadowlark retreat led to Celia becoming a volunteer for the Foundation, using skills gained over a career in alumni relations and development at the Stanford Law School and in human resources at Apple. She helped solicit donations from local businesses for the Gala, and organize the event.

Celia has a personality and a smile that instantly warms you to her. She exudes a calmness and quiet intelligence that are almost palpable, and the best ways to describe her are friendly and welcoming. During her 15 years working at Stanford, Celia rose to become the director of alumni relations and also annual giving at the Law School and then the senior associate director of recruiting services and marketing at the School of Business. She was then headhunted by Apple to head up their University Recruitment Division, and finished up her career as the senior manager of worldwide inclusion & diversity at Apple.

“I think [my career has] been very fulfilling,  it’s been a very good mix of both the not-for-profit as well as the for-profit -- primarily not-for-profit in education and I’ve always been very interested in the education sector,” Celia said. “I met some really bright, committed, exciting people throughout my career.”

Now that she is retired, Celia has gotten more involved with her synagogue, travels to visit her sons and their wives in Rhode Island and Los Angeles, and looks forward to working with the Foundation.

“I’ve been so inspired with the commitment of the board members and volunteers that are involved with the Foundation, how they have stayed so actively engaged and have grown it, it’s just incredibly impressive how hard everyone works to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“The depth of the impact that the board and volunteers make is really significant. That’s one of the reasons I was so interested in becoming more involved because I’ve been on other boards, and I think making a commitment to be on a board is both the mission of the organization, but it’s also the people that you’re going to be working with that is so important.”

We welcome Celia Harms to the Tim Griffith Board of Directors, and look forward to working with her.