Centenarian John Hillman wore his veteran’s uniform laden with medals for bravery as he completed a charity walkathon on Thursday — carrying on through a heat wave and the death of his wife of 79 years.
Hillman, 102, completed his age in laps around his Carlton House courtyard in Oak Bay, with the goal of raising $102,000 for Save the Children. Hillman kept to his commitment despite record-breaking temperatures and the death of his beloved wife, Irene Hillman, 100, on Saturday.
“Friday was very hard, Friday was the worst day because my daughter and I spent the whole day with my wife and she was close to going, she was only hanging on by a thread and we kept expecting her to go any moment,” said Hillman, his eyes welling. She died the next day.
“I couldn’t have walked on Saturday to save my life,” said Hillman. “But I decided I committed to do this charity walk for the children and I wasn’t going to let them down.”
Hillman, who lived with his wife in their Oak Bay retirement home until she contracted pneumonia last year and was hospitalized, said he met her when she was 18 and courted her for a year before the two married.
He had just arrived back from France “by the skin of my teeth” and Irene was working in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute for an RAF station in Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Her sister met a Canadian and the two couples had a double wedding.
“I think about her all the time,” said Hillman, “and then I realize I’m not going to see her any more.
“She was a wonderful person.”
Last year, the Second World War veteran made headlines by walking 101 laps — plus a victory lap — outside Carlton House to raise $101,000 for Save the Children. He smashed his goal within days and eventually raised $166,551.
The centenarian had been inspired by the story of Capt. Tom Moore. In April 2020, the then 99-year-old British Second World War veteran began walking 100 lengths of his garden to eventually raise about $55 million for the U.K.’s National Health Service.
Hillman, who is from Wales, noticed that Moore was a bearer of the Burma Star, just like him. That sparked the idea of a similar fundraiser in Victoria. Sadly, Moore contracted COVID-19 in January and died in February.
Hillman said he chose the Save the Children charity because he’s had a good long life “and I still have a bit more to come,” but there’s evidence that “a lot of children need help.”
Although he hasn’t met his fundraising goal yet, he said the $27,000 raised so far is money Save the Children didn’t have before, “and it will do some good.” And the donation window is still open, he said.
“I welcome people to still donate,” said Hillman. “In fact, if they want me to do more laps, I’ll do more laps — why not — if I can help.”
• To donate: tinyurl.com/bxfhz2w3