Tom and Lillian Beswick lived their entire lives in Alberta. Both were born on their family farms in rural Alberta communities — Tom in 1911, Lillian in 1915. They married in 1940, built a home on a farm in Spring Coulee and raised a family of six children there.

All three of the Beswick daughters attended the University of Lethbridge, and Tom and Lillian, after retiring from farming, sold their land and lived out the rest of their days in Lethbridge. The Beswick name is deeply rooted in the region, and recently it has garnered even more respect — particularly at the U of L’s Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN), thanks to a donation made by Tom and Lillian’s daughter, Bette Beswick (BA ’76.)

The Tom and Lillian Beswick Fellowship Award in Addictions Research was founded earlier this year — a $100,000 donation that has been dedicated toward research that will help discover why some people appear to be prone to addictive or pathological behaviour, while others are not.

Talking with Bette Beswick about the award, you quickly get a sense of how hard working her parents must have been, and how much this gift would mean to them.

“When my mom and dad sold the farm, they distributed the money among their kids,” Beswick explains. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life, so I thought it would be good to see the money go to something that could help others. I decided to support the CCBN because it’s one of the best research centres in Canada, and I wanted the money to stay close to where my parents always lived.”

Beswick studied biology and psychology at U of L and has always been fascinated by how the human brain works.

“I believe there must be some physiological reason behind addiction,” Beswick says. “What makes one person an alcoholic and keeps another person from becoming one? I don’t think I know anybody who hasn’t been affected by some form of addiction — whether it’s a family member, a friend or maybe themselves. My hope is that this award gives us some clues as to what drives that behaviour.”

Dr. Robert Sutherland, the director and Chair of CCBN, says the research and training the Beswick award will fund has the potential to provide a lot more than just clues.

“This fellowship will conduct research that traces the decision-making circuits in non-human animals. We can then use that information comparatively in humans with pathological decision making of various sorts,” Sutherland says. “This work may be able to help us identify people who are at risk for addiction, which is valuable in terms of precautions or preventative measures that might be taken, rather than trying to treat addiction after it takes hold.”

The Tom and Lillian Beswick Fellowship will fund training and research for a post-doctoral fellow at the U of L over a period of five years. The training and research the selected candidate will engage in is under the mentorship of neuroscientist Dr. Aaron Gruber.

“The fellowship is enabling me to recruit a great trainee who will study how drug abuse affects the brain,” explains Gruber. “The objective is to be able to identify how activity patterns become abnormal so that we have an objective measure to assess treatments and preventions. The project is not funded by a grant, and so would not happen without the support of the Beswick Fellowship.”