by Deborah Rogers –
Immediately noticeable when you meet Ruth and Ward Gammell is the warmth and affection between them. They sit close together and Ward touches Ruth’s arm and checks she is comfortable before they turn their attention to the question asked. Theirs is a story of lifelong love – two people married for an extraordinary 73 years, true partners since they met over 74 years ago.
After a busy lifetime together, Ward and Ruth now live at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. Ruth has been there since October 2015 and Ward followed in November 2016. The couple are able to remain as close as ever in the supportive environment of the Residential Care unit. An important part of both of their days is that Ward has a chair in Ruth’s room and each morning he goes in and sits with her by the window. “We enjoy being together,” says Ward; they spend most of the day together, eat together and play cards – they don’t necessarily join in a whole lot of activities but you’ll often find them sitting hand-in-hand.
Ward and Ruth enjoyed a big celebration last year with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in June, Ruth’s 100th birthday in July and Ward’s 101st birthday in September. Ruth tells me her secret to a long life: “you should be lazy – you don’t wear any parts out!”while Ward puts it down to “good cooking. And a contented life.” Listening to their story though, it seems that Ruth was far from lazy.
They met and got engaged during the war and lived in Ontario and Manitoba before moving to Vancouver Island. At the Saanich Peninsula Hospital the couple are able to enjoy the gardens – even those who are in a wheelchair (like Ruth) are able to access them. Ward enjoys being able to walk through them, and he also told me about the calisthenics he does daily (standing, sitting and lying). It’s clear from their busy life together that they have always been outdoor types. When the couple moved to Victoria they bought an acre of land and Ruth went into the flower business: “she sold baby’s breath wholesale to places in Vancouver and Victoria. Ruth worked from dawn to dusk! She enjoyed the flower business and all the people she met through it. One day she made and sold 300 bundles! She was a busy girl! We had 100 fruit trees as well.”
With three children, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren, the Gammells have left a true legacy, and a great example of lives well lived. Their family visits and supports them, and the hospital provides opportunities to continue that lifelong interest in hobbies and trying new things. Currently Ward is participating in an art program at the McTavish Academy of Arts. It’s these types of programs that “keep people going,” says Ward. He’s also using the internet to learn Spanish, an inspiring example of continuing to learn and develop new skills right into his second century.
The Gammells are happy to tell me that they love living at the hospital – “the food is good and the staff treat them so nice.” Ruth adds that “they don’t have to do anything, people even make the beds!” Simple comforts after a life of hard work, but important touches in someone’s day.