Beachburg – While many were sitting around the table enjoying a hearty Thanksgiving dinner, 83-year-old Russell Mackay was walking and raising funds for Hospice Renfrew.
Affectionately known as “Papa” by many, his walk was all the more remarkable not only because of his age but the fact he is diabetic and legally blind.
“Walking for these causes is like you’re playing hockey,” he said. “Go Papa go, and the cars are tooting. You’re doing something and they are making you feel good. They appreciate what you’re doing. You’re doing it for a good cause and so that’s the way I feel.”
The retired farmer is an avid walker and decided to put his walking toward a good cause, raising funds for an organization which relies on fundraising to keep operating the six-bed hospice which provides care to residents of the county and nearby area. In three short days, “Papa” and his team raised $14,000 for Hospice Renfrew and with donations opened until the end of the month, he is hoping more will come in. His walk took place late last week and over the Thanksgiving weekend from October 7 to 10.
“Every time you walk some place, you are going to a different place,” he said. “It’s kind of a nice feeling. I can still see things through the fog (in my right eye). And you meet nice people. So that’s one of the reasons I do it and I’m not done yet.”
He began in Beachburg with a rally on Thursday night. Then on Friday, the kickoff was in Petawawa and Deep River. On Saturday the walk was in Pembroke, Cobden and Westmeath. The final leg on Sunday was Arnprior with a wrap up in Renfrew.
“Oh my God, I’m telling you,” he said, following three days of walking a total of 33 kilometres. “You wouldn’t believe it. Everyone’s been great, just great all together.”
This is not the first time he embarked on such a journey. Last year he walked with family and friends as part of “Team Papa” to raise funds for CHEO. He walked 130 kilometres and raised over $120,000.
This year he chose to support Hospice Renfrew and expressed his appreciation for the local organization and the service it provides.
“You people are doing a heck of a good job there,” he said at the conclusion of the three-day walk.
“Papa” Mackay farmed in Westmeath Township, sold the farm about three years ago and retired to Beachburg. He likes to walk, but the fundraising for CHEO was his first long trek. He is blind in one eye and has had surgeries on the other. “I see, but I see through a fog,” he said. “We had to go through CHEO to see the eye doctor (at the General) and when we were going through, that was what really got me going. I always donated to organizations.
“There was a little boy laying on a little bed and his dad was standing beside him,” he recalled. “And I have grandchildren and he said ‘Daddy, I want to go home’ and he said ‘I can’t take you home son. You have got to stay in here’.
“Well, that got to me,” he said. “It just got to me so I said to Doreen (his wife, also affectionately known as Nana) ‘when we get home, do you know what I am going to do? I am going to go and walk for CHEO and donate money to CHEO’.”
His daughters remined him he was 83 at the time.
“I said, ‘I don’t care’. I walk every day in Beachburg and I’m going three or four miles a day. I’m in pretty good shape,” he said.
“If I say I am going to do something I’ll do it. You won’t stop me. And if it rains you won’t stop me, I have a raincoat,” he joked.
He had the support of his family for his walk, including children Crystal and Sherrie and Rick Mackay and son Shane and Amanda. “It took us 10 days to go to CHEO and here we’re three days,” he said. “I feel good. I eat good. I eat a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruit.”
Mr. Mackay will be turning 84 on November 25.
“I’ll go until I can’t,” he noted.
His daughter Crystal said they have a lot of community support and it has been wonderful to see. “We have some great people in the community,” she said. “The farm community, we have some friends we knew from the dairy industry.
“We have local dairy farmers with us today, we have ag farmers, beef farmers,” she added. “We have all kinds of farmers who have really rallied around this old farmer and this farm family, so we really appreciate the farm community.”
The family is keeping the fund open until end of month encouraging more groups, more companies and individuals to jump on board and support Hospice Renfrew. With a goal of $12,000, they have surpassed it and raised $14,000 and are hoping for more.
The money will be used to purchase recliner chairs for each of the six hospice rooms.
Renfrew Mayor Don Eady and well-known Beachburg resident Art Jamieson, who also does his share to help raise funds for Hospice Renfrew, were also on hand to congratulate Papa at the end of his walk.
Anyone wanting more information on how to donate to Papa’s walk can reach out to Crystal at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow along the Papa Walks for Charity Facebook page.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader