IT’S ALL ABOUT SMILING
How many of you have ever heard of Gary Jones? A couple! Well, hopefully when you leave here you will at least feel you have a sense of the essence of Gary Jones.
Gary Jones is married, he is a father and grandfather. He lives in Timberlea and is a dedicated member of Trinity United Church, volunteering at suppers, and BBQ’s and Truckers’ Breakfasts as part of the work of his church and community. He is retired now at 65, but worked as a trucker for 38 years, the last number of years for Russel Metals Inc. He had thyroid cancer in 1997, had his thyroid removed, received treatment and is now a cancer survivor. He is a cyclist. Actually that is an understatement!! He has a passion for cycling!! Now you have a few pieces of factual information about Gary, but that barely scratches the surface of “Gary Jones”.
After his thyroid cancer and his subsequent recovery from that, Gary had a growing ambition to do something to raise awareness and money for thyroid cancer research – to give something back as he puts it. As he was approaching retirement, he began to make plans to bicycle across Canada for just this purpose. He set up a blogspot and with the support of his family and friends, he began to see his vision come to reality. His plan was to be “hosted” at homes along the route from Victoria, BC, to Nova Scotia. He spread the word through his blogspot, his church, and his employer’s branches across the country, inviting families to host him – to provide a good meal, a hot shower and eight hours of sleep, with a hearty breakfast to see him off on the road in the morning. He mapped out his route across the country, listing all the stops along the way and gradually the hosts began to offer their hospitality to him.
His employer, Russel Metals made every effort to support him in his endeavor, right down to paying to fly Gary and his bike to Victoria when another transportation plan had fallen through; and paying the tab for his hotels and his meals, on the dates that he didn’t have a host along the way. In each of the communities where there was a branch of Russel Metals, he was warmly welcomed and his cause was generously supported. Before Gary left Halifax, Russel Metals, at their expense, made 45, (plus a few extras), butterflies out of stainless steel for him to present to each of his hosts along the way.
Did you know that the butterfly is the official symbol for Thyroid cancer research? I did not know this until he presented us with this butterfly on his last night on the road. Russel Metals went above and beyond to lend him their support, which in this day and age of corporate cut-backs, downsizing, and bottom line profit margins, that speaks very highly of Russel Metals as a company and of the care they have for their employees. It also speaks volumes of Gary’s dedication as an employee, as he said “not many people retire and still have an expense account with their employer.” He had hauled steel for 38 years, starting out with 22 wheels and then going to 18 wheels driving east to west, now he was going to head out on his dream adventure on two wheels, Hauling Hope, Faith and Attitude!
Through Eascan Building Supplies, Gordie came to know Gary a number of years ago as the delivery man that everyone looked forward to seeing, because “no matter how bad your day might be going, a few minutes with Gary and you were uplifted and encouraged.” In Gary’s last months of driving for Russel Metals he kept the guys updated on his plans for this adventure and his enthusiasm rubbed off on the people he talked to; as a result financial support was generous and when Gordie asked him if he had a host for his last night of the trek, which would be in Truro, Gary replied that he did not…so.. the Miller household became his host for that night.
So this is how I was granted the privilege and honour of spending some time with this remarkable and truly inspirational man. We logged onto his blogspot and saved it in our Favorites, and each night from May 15 through to June 29, we would check on Gary’s progress, read the update that his daughter Christina faithfully added each day, usually with a photo and a little info about still another Tim Horton’s that Gary had visited for his Tim’s coffee along the way. We would see the Fund Barometer rising as he made his way East and we would read about how far he had traveled that day, the weather he had to contend with and the difficulty or ease of the ride, through mountains, hills, snow, rain, heat, distance, but always the blog ended with Gary’s motto, It’s all about the smiles and strength, and you’re having a good day when you’re going downhill! I’m pretty sure that some days it seemed like there were no downhills, but according to Gary there were no bad days. He would start each day with gratitude for the hosts’ hospitality, or the company’s generosity for hotels and meals. As he cycled along he would think about all the people who loved him and all the folks who were supporting him in his dream. He would talk with God and he would just keep on moving, keep on smiling, because there were no obstacles for him, just opportunities to experience this wonder, to live out this dream, and to meet people and hear their stories.
Gary completed his journey across this country, inspiring people in every community he stopped in, and we had a wonderful evening with him listening to his story told in his incredibly humble and uplifting way. Gordie commented to him that evening how lucky he was to still have the health to make this trip which he’d planned for so long and to that he responded, “there was never any doubt in my mind that I would do this”. To Gary there was just no thought of ‘can’t’ or ‘give up’ on this dream. When he arrived here, after having cycled almost 4500 miles, he did not seem to be one bit tired or worn down, not an ache or a blister to complain about. He was just incredibly grateful for God’s grace and strength for the journey, our hospitality, which he couldn’t thank us enough for; according to him, this was truly a wonderful thing we were doing for him, supporting him on his journey by opening our home to him. Well all I can say is we were the ones who benefited most from that evening of hospitality – no question about that in my mind. Anyone can cook a simple meal for someone and offer them a bed and a shower, but it takes truly special people like Gary to graciously and humbly enter into a family home, bringing a sense of awe and admiration for his strength of spirit, yet make you feel as if you are spending time with an old and dear friend.
As an example of his generosity of spirit, on the morning he was leaving our house we had breakfast together and then as he was gearing up his bike I picked a gerbera daisy from our flower pot and poked it down the handlebars of his bike. I said “Gary, this is for Lindsay, she will be riding with you today”. Lindsay was a very dear friend of our son and daughter in law’s who had passed away in February with cancer and she had told everyone that she wanted lots of gerbera daisies at her service, as many as they could find! So we planted gerbera daisies in her honor in our flower pots this spring. Gary was concerned that this daisy would fall off or blow away, and we said that’s fine, if it’s meant to stay for the whole drive it will! We gave him a send off from the NSCC where his son in law and another cyclist joined him to ride the last leg of the journey with him. As they biked along that day other cyclists joined him at times and when he arrived in Halifax at Point Pleasant Park two of his grandsons joined him to go the final few metres where he dipped his bicycle wheels in the Atlantic Ocean. There were Russel Metal trucks and drivers lined up to blast their horns and welcome him home from this incredible dream adventure. Lindsay’s daisy was still with him and he released it into the Atlantic Ocean.
I hope I’ve been able to convey to you a glimpse of the spirit and determination and compassion of Gary Jones; persevering in the task he set out for himself with faith and joy and gratitude; caring for everyone he meets and some that he’s never met – a role model for youth, and an inspiration for all.
Gary would be the first to tell you that he is a basic, ordinary working man, a husband and father who struggled with raising a family while spending time on the road away from that family in order to provide for them financially.
“It’s all about smiling.”