A man to look up to

For­mer Bri­gus mayor praises health-care sys­tem


It’s a Satur­day in the late 1940s and a young McGill Uni­ver­sity stu­dent, John Waller, boards a ski train that takes him up the Gatineau Hills, north of Mon­treal. A child, see­ing the very tall and lanky man, ex­claims, “Gee, you’re tall, mis­ter. You must be at least six feet.”

Waller good-na­turedly re­sponds, “I am five-feet-15.” Dis­ap­point­ment reg­is­ter­ing on the boy’s face, he says, “Aw, I thought you were at least six feet.”

More than 60 years later, Waller is now 83 years-of-age. It’s of­ten said a per­son gets shorter with age, but this well-known res­i­dent of Bri­gus has lost pre­cious lit­tle height. In ev­ery re­spect, he’s still an im­pos­ing and tow­er­ing per­son. He has paid his dues, and is now ac­corded love and re­spect by those who know him best.

Waller’s Bri­gus con­nec­tion stems from his late wife, Jean Ma­rina Mae Hod­dinott. They were mar­ried for close to 30 years. The town was once home to the Hod­dinott fam­ily and she still had friends there. The cou­ple reg­u­larly hol­i­dayed in Bri­gus. So in 2000, they left their home in Ot­tawa and re­lo­cated to the his­toric Con­cep­tion Bay town.

Waller plunged right in, and within no time was the mayor.

“ Some­one sug­gested I put my name in for councillor,” he re­calls. He topped the polls, and served as mayor from 2001-05.

He con­tin­ued to lead a pro­duc­tive, healthy life un­til a year ago, when he suf­fered a stroke.

While talk­ing on the phone with a friend, Waller “started talk­ing gob­blede­gook,” he re­calls. The friend im­me­di­ately called for an am­bu­lance.

Much of what hap­pened next is shrouded in a fog, at least from Waller’s stand­point. But he man­aged to walk to the am­bu­lance and climb aboard.

He was taken to the Car­bon­ear Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, and awoke four or five weeks later. Doc­tors were concerned he wasn’t go­ing to sur­vive. The stroke, caused by a block­age in his neck, af­fected his right side. Now, his hand is weak and he walks with a limp.

Waller is pro­fuse in his praise of the med­i­cal staff in Car­bon­ear. The su­perla­tives pile up when­ever he brings them to mind: “I was treated ex­tremely well . I have only the ab­so­lute high­est praise for them.”

From Car­bon­ear, where he had de­tected im­prove­ment in his con­di­tion, Waller was trans­ferred to St. John’s, even­tu­ally un­der­go­ing re­hab at the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Cen­tre.

Doc­tors cleaned out the blocked carotid artery in his neck, af­ter which he was given phys­io­ther­apy.

A red-let­ter day was when he was fi­nally able to move a fin­ger. While wait­ing for the hos­pi­tal to come awake, he was jump­ing for joy. “ There was great re­joic­ing in the Miller Cen­tre,” he says, “when I moved one fin­ger a quar­ter of an inch.”

Lit­tle things meant much to him there. He en­joyed the food, even if he was sur­prised to be given eggs ev­ery day, what with the “story go­ing around that eggs are not good for you.” He en­joyed the live en­ter­tain­ment pro­vided by the hos­pi­tal. He peered out the win­dow at the scenery. Play­ing chess with staff stim­u­lated his mental prow­ess.

Above all e lse, he was over­whelmed by the smil­ing faces around him. “I didn’t see a frown among them. It did make a dif­fer­ence. It en­cour­aged me, and it must have en­cour­aged the other pa­tients.”

By May or June, Waller was back in his Bri­gus home, af­fec­tion­ately dubbed the Kil­lick. The emo­tional toll on Waller has been siz­able, and he of­ten feels frus­trated. The loss of his driver’s li­cense has been dif­fi­cult to ac­cept, and he suf­fers from me­mory loss. For ex­am­ple, he some­times for­gets the names of com­mu­ni­ties from Bri­gus to Car­bon­ear.

Mean­while, he be­lieves he’s deal­ing well with the dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects of his stroke. Ad­mit­tedly, he isn’t as ac­tive as he was, but adds, “I’m not ex­actly the youngest per­son in the neigh­bour­hood.”

Waller is con­founded by those who have noth­ing but neg­a­tive things to say about the pro­vin­cial health care sys­tem.

“Part of it,” he rea­sons, “is they do not go to the doc­tor when they should. They let it build up, and then they panic. Then they want the prob­lem fixed right then and there. They’re im­pa­tient and they don’t do what they’re told.”

How does Waller cope? The stiff up­per lip of his English fa­ther is ev­i­dent as Waller says: “I have learned to live with what I have.” He has adapted to his sit­u­a­tion be­cause of lessons he has al­ready learned about han­dling the dis­ap­point­ments of life.

His long-term goal? “I in­tend to out­live my mother.” Jill Waller was over 100 when she passed away.

To­day, Waller ben­e­fits from home-care ser­vices, but notes: “ I’m quite ca­pa­ble of do­ing most of the things I need. I’m do­ing ev­ery­thing I can to achieve my goal. I’m still sur­viv­ing.”

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