Family first during a pandemic

Percy Cunningham of Prince Albert stands in his driveway shortly after returning home from a walk to leave a few gifts for his wife Gladys. They’ve been married for more than 70 years. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

It’s nearly supper, and Percy Cunningham has just finished his second two kilometer walk of the day.

That’s a great total for residents of any age, but it’s just an average day for Cunnigham, who turns 93 this month.

“I just came back about 10 minutes ago, for the second time around day,” he says over the phone.

Then he starts to chuckle.

“And I go by that woman’s place who phoned you and started this whole problem,” he jokes.

To be clear, there’s no problem. Cunningham is not looking for publicity, and his neighbours aren’t angry with him. They’re impressed. He walks for one reason and one reason only, and it isn’t exercise or a desire to get out of the house—although those are a few of the added benefits.

It’s to bring gifts to his wife, Gladys, who he calls the “love of his life.” She lives in Good Shepherd Villa, and they haven’t seen each other in person since mid-March. Almost every day he walks to the building, rings the doorbell, and leaves a box of chocolates and bouquet of flowers at the door. It’s her Christmas present.

“I said, ‘okay, for your Christmas present is I’m going to give you flowers and candy every week until the flowers come in the summer,” Percy remembers. “So, I take them too her every week, but I’m not really in touch with her. All I do is go down, ring the bell, and they come out and take the flowers and take them to her. I don’t see or hear anything. It’s hard.”

Percy and Gladys used to operate a service station together in Waskesiu. She ran the counter in the front. He ran the garage in the back. After retiring, they moved to Prince Albert where they volunteered extensively at St. Alban’s Cathedral.

When Gladys moved into Good Sheppard Villa, Percy visited three or four times a week. They’ve done everything together for more than 70 years of marriage. Now they’ve been forced apart due to COVID-19, except for the occasional phone call.

Percy remains optimistic despite the challenges. Taking long walks two—and sometimes three—times a day brings some solace, and helps him reflect on the life they lived together.

He hopes Prince Albert seniors and older residents will understand that their relatives may not be able to visit during what he calls an “extraordinary time,” even though they want to.

He also hopes the restrictions will end by June, although he has no actual predictions about when that will happen. Until that day comes, he’ll keep walking.