Stories with heart: Here are some characters who helped get us through a pandemic year

·9 min read
Stories with heart: Here are some characters who helped get us through a pandemic year
Gavin Simms/CBC
Gavin Simms/CBC

It's been a long, long year, as people, businesses and organizations have suffered losses, closures and uncertain futures in the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, the light at the end of the tunnel draws nearer. Vaccinations are rolling out, bringing hope even as the pandemic takes a toll across the planet.

Newfoundland and Labrador has avoided the heavy tolls that other jurisdictions have endured, but it has not been easy. Major parts of the economy — tourism, energy, the service sector — took one blow after another.

And while the road was dark and normalcy of previous life lurks on the horizon, there have been some bright spots throughout the year that have helped light the way.

Here's a look back on some of the people — and even some animals — we met this year.

They reminded us to keep pushing forward. They also remind us that resilience, caring, compassion and wonder is what we're made of — and they're not going anywhere.

We've linked back to each piece that we published over the last year.

Nonagenarians with sound advice for a looming recession

Submitted by Andie Bulman
Submitted by Andie Bulman

The Deons have seen and done it all before. The Great Depression, war-rationing, the collapse of the cod industry and the more recent global recession of 2008.

While a global health pandemic is new and anxiety-inducing for many, Roderick Deon, 99, and Frances Deon, 91, shared their advice for those facing our first global recession. Their story was one of our most-read articles this year.

Why? Good advice does not go out of style. From bartering to gardening, foraging to DIY projects, the couple shared experience on how to manage when times get tough.

"Everything was home-made. You took care of what you did have. We repaired things and reused them. You couldn't just go to a store," said Roderick Deon.

She wrote her own obituary — and it's hilarious

Hickey's Funeral Home
Hickey's Funeral Home

Sometimes you find a laugh where you don't necessarily expect it.

Kathleen Hearn of Bell Island delivered just that — on the obituary page, in a notice she wrote for herself.

"I now have the smoking hot body I have always wanted… having been cremated," Hearn wrote.

Hearn died in July, but not before writing an obituary that spoke volumes about how she lived her life, and wanted to be remembered.

Those who knew her expected nothing less.

The KD kid

Submitted by Connie Frye
Submitted by Connie Frye

Marcus Robertson of Shoal Harbour loves Kraft Dinner — not the regular kind, but the one with spiral noodles.

Robertson, 15 when we brought you his story, has autism and epilepsy, and is sensitive to many different foods.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended supply chains throughout the world, and when spiral KD became difficult to find, his mother, Connie Frye, reached out to the Autism Society, which in turn took to Facebook.

From there, many around the province stepped up to help the family — delivering about 300 boxes at last count.

"Most of the packages that we've got so far, there's been a little note or an explanation, and he is over the moon that all of these people are taking their groceries or thinking about him," she said.

"He's feeling so connected to everybody."

Finding kindness at the dollar store

A few weeks ago, we met 10-year-old Timothy Bassler whose character, personality and kindness stole the heart of fellow shopper Neta Loveman Rowsell, prompting her to buy Bassler's gifts for him.

They were both in a Dollarama store on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's, where they bumped into each other, and sparked the gift of giving over the holidays.

"It was just something about him that day, that age," said Loveman Rowsell, who was impressed with Bassler's dedicationto find gifts for relatives.

"To have that money, normally you'd run around the dollar store, throwing things in the cart for themselves but instead he was just shopping for cousins."

Comedians smash assumptions about disabled people

Eddy Kennedy/CBC
Eddy Kennedy/CBC

Being disabled can be funny, says Camron Warren and Josh Menchions, and they're getting the laughs to prove it.

The longtime comedy fans took the plunge into standup earlier this year and haven't looked back.

"My focus is on me misusing my disability to make people feel uncomfortable," Menchions told CBC in August while laughing. "It's kind of a thing I naturally do."

Menchions lives with the effects of a brain stem injury.

Warren, who has cerebral palsy, said he was inspired to get on stage after his friend Menchions did so earlier this year.

Brandon Chase and his life's work

Submitted by Pamela Davis
Submitted by Pamela Davis

A drunk driver gave Brandon Chase permanent brain damage in 2015.

Now he's protecting others from the same fate.

In July we met Chase, and helped tell his story. It's a story he wants to reach as many people as possible — a story he will tell any ear willing to give him the time.

"I'm very fortunate," Chase told CBC News at the time.

But his life is different now, and he uses his own brain injury to show others what one reckless decision can do.

The blueberry man

Gavin Simms/CBC
Gavin Simms/CBC

For the past five years or so, Lorne Rowbottom has picked and sold enough blueberries in St. John's to call it a living.

The 59-year-old can be seen puttering around Signal Hill in the late summer, picking up to six gallons of berries a day, every day.

"I credit the berries with everything," Rowbottom told CBC News in September. "All summer long I don't go without me food.… I keep myself goin.'"

Rowbottom sells to tourists and passersby but his main clientele come to him through Facebook Marketplace and local restaurants.

A call for recognition for an act of bravery

Submitted by Judy Newhook
Submitted by Judy Newhook

Judy Newhook wants her neighbour recognized for bravery after quick action stopped her from bleeding out.

One day in May while working on a project at home, Newhook lost her hand in an accident involving a chop saw.

Newhook, 70, said the accident happened in a split second. To this day, she can't explain how her wrist ended up where the plank of wood should have been.

Newhook's neighbour, Gary Regular, leapt into action, ripping a towel from Newhook's kitchen into strips and creating a makeshift tourniquet with a butter knife while the pair waited for an ambulance to arrive.

Newhook is pushing for Regular to be recognized for the Newfoundland and Labrador Award for Bravery.

Birds are this Twillingate man's 'saving grace'

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Randy Jenkins has a close relationship with the birds who return to visit him each spring.

He moved to Newfoundland after the trauma of a 1994 murder and robbery at the Oshawa, Ont., sporting goods store where he worked.

The shooting left his boss dead and Jenkins wounded.

Decades later, Jenkins has rebuilt a new life in Twillingate.

"The birds have become a saving grace," he said in an interview in July.

Protecting the Newfoundland pony

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

The Newfoundland Pony Society is trying to raise $250,000 to establish a heritage park for the hardworking animals in the Trinity Bay area.

Clifford George, who owns two ponies, says there were about 154 in the province when the last count was done in 2008. Decades ago, there were thousands of them.

"We've got something that's unique in this province. It grew as we did, distinct, and the pony grew up with us, and they were responsible for more or less keeping us alive," Clifford told CBC News in a recent interview.

"We'd have froze to death without the Newfoundland pony. So we owe it to the ponies to save them."

Humpback ballet

Submitted, Sarah Russell
Submitted, Sarah Russell

A father-daughter duo out on the Atlantic Ocean got the surprise of their lifetime in August, when two 45-tonne animals literally crashed their fishing trip.

Sarah and Sean Russell were quietly enjoying their morning, monitoring two humpback whales that were feeding nearby.

But the situation changed, and the Russell's caught it all on camera, including Sarah's jaw dropping reaction as the two whales breached in front of their boat.

It was Sarah's reaction that caught the attention of viewers as much as it was the two giant mammals putting on a show.

Sean Russell uploaded the video to Facebook where it has been shared thousands of times.

'Hero cat' alerts owner to burning slow cooker

Submitted by Scott White
Submitted by Scott White

In April, a Portugal Cove-St. Philip's cat saved his owners one night while they slept.

Scott White awoke in the early hours of a Sunday morning to his cat purring and pacing around the bedroom. The cat, a shelter rescue named Joey, even stood on his chest to get his attention.

White quickly realized something was wrong, and went to the kitchen to find the room filling with smoke from a slow cooker he had set hours earlier.

White turned off the pot before it became a full-on fire, and could rest easily knowing his cat had his back.

White noted that the family dog slept through the action.

Lost turtle reunited with owner 10 months later

Submitted by Hailey Pudan
Submitted by Hailey Pudan

A red-eared slider turtle was able to survive one of the province's harshest winters this year after escaping from her cage at her home in Carbonear in August 2019.

Mikey the turtle survived outdoors, including through Snowmaggedon, and was reunited Pudan family in June — 10 months after the great escape.

The family received a tip in January of Mikey's location. She was found at a pond near the family home underwater and hibernating.

Then the blizzard struck and hopes for survival dwindled.

But, In mid-June, in the middle of a global pandemic, Mikey surfaced from her slumber, ready to be rescued.

"They walked right up to Mikey, picked her up and brought her home."


Ryan Cooke/CBC
Ryan Cooke/CBC

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary hired its newest recruit in July.

Stella, a Portuguese water dog from Mississauga, Ont., was then trained to help wherever she can as a support dog.

Const. Krista Fagan is her handler, and brings Stella to work every day where she'll help make the police station more welcoming to visitors and victims, and help perk up other officers with her presence.

Stella also pops up in communities and businesses around the Avalon Peninsula, helping give people a needed break from pandemic anxieties and adding a few moments of puppy brightness to their day.

A 3-legged cat, 2 families, 1 incredible bond

Submitted by Sarah McLeod
Submitted by Sarah McLeod

The story of Bubby the three-legged cat is a tale of life on the streets, a loving family, a road to recovery, and a happy ending in a new home.

Boyd Abbott and Bubby the cat made a connection in 2012 as Abbott began putting out food for a different stray cat that year.

Their connection lasted until 2017. Abbott had died, and Bubby stopped showing up to his house shortly after.

In November, Bubby was found again after a community effort to locate the cat was successful. This time Bubby was turned over to the Exploits Valley SPCA for help.

After a Facebook post from volunteer Sarah McLeod, who was looking for more information about Bubby's history, drew online attention, Rhonda Wiseman leapt at the opportunity to share the story of her father's and Bubby's friendship.

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