102-year-old veteran finishes fundraiser, inspires 35-year-old's tattoo
OAK BAY -- There are other people’s morning walks and then there’s John Hillman’s morning walks.
“They are all shouting and clapping and helping me go on,” John says of the dozens of people cheering him along his route.
One of his many fans — Scott — is taking pictures of John’s walk.
“It’s a reminder of service,” Scott says. “Every day we should strive to help others.”
The 102-year-old John is finishing the final leg of his 102-lap fundraiser around Oak Bay’s Carlton House courtyard in support of Save the Children Canada.
It’s a journey that began last year, when John felt like he was 20 years younger.
“I had all that energy and all that desire to do something with my life,” John explains. “I didn’t seem to have done very much.”
Although the Second World War Royal Air Force veteran enlisted at 17 and served in France, Italy, Africa, and Burma, with the medals to prove it — and although he returned home to raise a family with his wife, Irene, that’s grown to include grandchildren and great grandchildren — John felt compelled to do more.
“I’ve nearly finished my life,” he says. “So it’s no good for me going for a cause for me.”
So the then 101-year-old committed to walk 101 laps in support of Save the Children Canada.
John ended up gaining international attention, raising more than $140,000, and earning fans like Scott’s respect.
“[He’s] willing to sacrifice,” Scott says. “And put others before yourself.”
The walks inspired the 35-year-old — who’s a reservist with the Canadian Scottish Regiment — to ask John to hand-write the group’s Gaelic motto (translated as “Ready for the Fray”) on a piece of paper. Later, Scott had it tattooed on his arm.
“It’s a reminder that no challenge is insurmountable,” Scott says.
John certainly demonstrated that during his second fundraising walk this year. He kept walking despite the record-breaking heat last week and the loss of his wife of 80 years a few days ago.
“She really loved me right to the end,” he says. “And I loved her.”
John says he can feel Irene with him every step of the way.
“She’s probably thinking I’m a show-off,” he laughs.
But after a little teasing, there’d no doubt be big embracing.
“She’d be proud of me,” he smiles. “I really feel like I’ve done something worthwhile.”
Which is why — after completing 102 laps and raising $30,000 this year — John’s planning to do it all again next year, plus one more lap, when he turns 103.