There are many stories that come to the Free Press which show triumph over adversity, and, as reporters, we never fail to be inspired by them and we hope readers will be as well.
Gladys McKay has lived in Prince George since 1952 when sidewalks downtown were still made of wooden planks, and when the hospital was located in the old army barracks.
She remembers harsh winters back then with temperatures that dipped to 45 degrees below and with “snow so high that you couldn’t see out our windows.”
Looking back over her 90 years of life, most of it spent in Prince George, Gladys McKay is as amazed as anyone who knows her how much personal tragedy she has overcome.
There is no rule book, she says, which helps guides people through life or gives them the willpower to carry on as she did after losing her teenaged daughter in a car crash in the summer of 1971 – then, two months later, burying her husband.
Both incidents came without warning, she said.
“We were playing cards with our neighbours, my husband was dealing cards, and he just fell over onto the floor. He’d had a stroke. He got over that first one not too badly but then he had other strokes – after the last one he couldn’t walk and ended up in a wheelchair.”
The couple had been living in a little house located in a rural setting on the Old Quesnel Highway.
It had no indoor plumbing and after her husband’s stroke, McKay decided they should move into the city so she could better take care of him.
“I looked after my husband at home for four years. He could no longer work, he’d been a labourer but hed been injured in an accident. After that he started to have pain in his right hand so the doctor gave him painkillers.
“One day, the tip of his finger went black and fell off and we found out he had gangrene.”
Surgeons had to remove all four fingers (they left the thumb intact), said McKay.
“They taught him how to use his hand again but when he came home he was struggling even to put on his shirt. They told me not to help him, so he’d learn to let him do it himself. But I felt he’d been through too much already so I helped him.”
Little did she know her life was going to be turned upside down again.
“I had two children, a boy and a girl. As soon as she was out of high school, my daughter Fern went to work for B.C. Tel. We had just bought a new car together now that she was earning money.
“Fern was helping us out with our expenses to help us make ends meet. She’d always been a good daughter growing up and never gave us any problems.”
Fern was 19 years old when she made the fateful decision in July 1971 to join her friends for a day at the lake.
“It was a nice day in July. Fern asked me if I minded if she used the car so she and her boyfriend could go out to Bear Lake with some friends. And I said yes.”
That was the last time McKay would see her daughter alive.
“At that time the highway wasn’t in so you had to go by Summit Lake. Fern was on her way home and there was a driver on his way to Mackenzie and he didn’t make the turn and hit her vehicle. Fern was the only one killed. Her boyfriend had some injuries.
“I lost half my life that day but I had to go on because I still had my son Herman – and I loved both my children to death.”
To this day, her son, who lives in the Lower Mainland, phones once a week and, along with his wife, visits McKay and helps her with household chores.
“They came in and wallpapered my cupboards and did spring cleaning,” said McKay, who’s lived in the same apartment block in Prince George for 28 years.
These days, despite glaucoma which is slowly robbing her of sight and a “bad leg” which prevents her from walking any distance, McKay says she likes to “keep busy and keep moving.”
It’s important in later years especially, she says, to socialize with friends and other seniors and join in their activities.
Recently she went for an outing at the first Pioneers and Pancakes Seniors’ Appreciation breakfast at Pine Centre Mall.
She likes company but that doesn’t mean that she’s in any hurry to move into a seniors’ residence.
“I like my independence,” she says, smiling.