He’s called “Papa” by many, whether a person is born into Russell Mackay’s large family or whether they are unofficially adopted, the affection is real and mutual. Papa’s been helping people in his family and community for years and lately, his attention has turned to the kids at CHEO.
When Papa began losing his sight about 15 years ago, his trips to The Ottawa Hospital brought him through CHEO. It broke his heart to see the young kids waiting for treatment. One visit in particular really affected him; “I heard a little boy crying for his dad,” Papa remembers, “I got very emotional.”
Moments like this started Papa thinking, about all the help he had been receiving from doctors to manage his sight and diabetes and from family and friends who have been a source of support all his life, “I decided it was time for me to start doing something for someone else.”
Originally, Papa had decided to leave money to CHEO in his will. His family convinced him to make that donation now, while he could enjoy seeing the positive impact he was making on the children and families who rely on CHEO. So the question became how could he contribute in a special way?
Papa had always walked, as a farmer he had travelled miles on his own land. While he’s retired now he’s maintained this habit, knowing how important it is to keep the body moving. Compassion for others had inspired him and now his work ethic would put that kindness to work. “I want to walk to Ottawa” he told his family about a year ago, and if they were skeptical at first, they aren’t any more.
With the help of his kids they worked out that Papa was already walking seven to eight kilometres a day. If they could increase that to 10K or a bit more, and take 10 days to make the trip from Beachburg to Ottawa, it was doable! The Papa Walks 4 CHEO event was born. Papa diligently walked his kilometres every day and his family teamed up to create a buzz around the #PapaWalks4Kids so that when he began his trek on August 26 the momentum of family and community enthusiasm carried him all the way to Ottawa, where he ended his epic walk on the grounds of CHEO on Friday, September 4.
Papa had always planned to deliver a big cheque to CHEO at the end of his walk, to support the kids who inspired him. But the results far surpassed even his highest hopes. The total presented was over $120,000 – more than double the original goal. This huge fundraising achievement is a testament to Papa’s determination and resilience. The large group of supporters that followed him along the way and cheered him as he was piped over the finish line is proof that the power of community can take us farther than we ever thought possible.
What makes this event extra special is that when 82 year-old Russell Mackay, blind and diabetic, arrived at CHEO he had covered nearly 130 kilometres, literally bringing this community to its feet, giving us all a chance to use our kindness and compassion to do some good for someone else. This is a powerful lesson and another way that Russell Mackay is a Papa to all of us.