Welcome. I’d like to take a moment of your time to introduce you to just one of our marvellous volunteers. Twice a week like clockwork, she can be found bustling around the office and helping out in a variety of areas. It flows from a thankful heart. Bundling gift baskets, sweeping floors, assisting with events or sanitizing doorknobs, Gail is a whirlwind of activity, gliding effortlessly from room to room at our Dublin Avenue office, in Winnipeg.
Diana Gail Reid, though she goes by Gail, her middle name – is the eldest of three siblings. Her husband David Reid, descended from an old Scottish family that emigrated to Canada a generation before. Upon arriving in Canada, his ancestors settled in Montreal, Quebec. Over the years, the family eventually moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and then to Winnipeg, Manitoba where David was born. It is at this juncture that David, as an employee of Robin Hood Flour, first locked eyes with Gail as a young employee of the Royal Bank. David would often say, that it “must have been true love…because she didn’t marry him for the money!” In 1964, David and Gail were married.
Over the years, David transitioned through various employers. He eventually left Robin Hood Flour and went to work for Kimberly-Clark (at their location in Winnipeg). When that company was sold and moved south of the border, David and Gail opted to stay in Winnipeg and David accepted a position at W. H. Escott. It was while working for his last employer, that David’s symptoms began to appear.
One of the first indicators that all was not well, was in David’s speech patterns. David noticed it. Later, one of Gail’s friends also confided with her that she had noticed it, wondering if David
David and Gail on their wedding day in 1964.
was intoxicated – extremely unlike him. Symptoms continued to develop over two or three years. Doctors performed numerous tests and eventually concluded that David had ALS. While David and Gail had heard of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, they did not know a lot about it at the time.
It was at this point in their lives that the couple came into contact with Diana and her team at the ALS Society of Manitoba. Gail has nothing but praise for the energy that the ALS Society put in while assisting them and marvelled at the milage Diana (executive director of ALS Manitoba) accumulated in visiting clients all across the province. As for David, he received regular visits from her as he was constantly in and out of the hospital.
ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) tends to affect the voluntary muscles. This means that areas like the heart, brain activity and the senses are little affected. However, chest muscles for breathing and muscles used for balance, are voluntary muscles and gradually deteriorate, leading to progressive paralysis.
Gail fondly recalls David’s last employer, W. H. Escott, who graciously allowed David to continue working for as long as he was comfortable. David loved sales. He loved talking to people. While David’s speech gradually deteriorated, his brain did not. When he was no longer able to talk, David transitioned to writing to his customers. Sadly, David eventually reached a point where even this was difficult and reluctantly he left his employer.
The end finally came on an April evening. After a long day of having tests done at the hospital, David and Gail had arrived home. Gail was exhausted. David on the other hand, ever full of energy was determined on taking down the Christmas lights on their balcony, despite Gail’s protests. Gail tucked in for the night. Three hours later she was abruptly awakened. Police were on the scene. In the process of removing the lights, David had lost his balance and fallen from their balcony. He was unable to be revived. With a tear in her eye, it is an image that sadly still haunts Gail to this day. And it is among the reasons that Gail is here with us at the ALS Society.
Eleven years have now passed. David and Gail had lots of dreams; lots of adventures. They enjoyed time spent travelling. They were always honest with each other. They were blessed with two beautiful daughters and two lovely grandchildren. She misses him, unbelievably; but she has the memories of their wonderful life together that she cherishes. Every moment is precious.
She is so thankful for the care and attention that she received from Diana and her team, that she wants to give back. Gail desires to make others happy – and with such a happy and bubbly spirit, it would be impossible for her to fail. She praises the hospital and the funeral home, everybody was so supportive.
Ironically, though much more intimate, this was not Gail’s first exposure to ALS. As a young banker, Gail (along with her manager) assisted a client with the financial side of donating a property that would become the Brummitt Feasby ALS House. The mother of the family had recently passed away from ALS, and the family wished to donate the house to the ALS Society. Never in a million years did Gail think she would have a future connection to ALS. This home would become the first and only of its kind in North America.
Now, in this present Covid plagued era, Gail finds it extremely important to keep busy and push forward. “You can’t meet up with your friends like you used to, but you can get out and volunteer – and make a difference,” she says. She also admires the work of the other volunteers who help out – each in their special way.
When asked about her favourite event, it was hard for Gail to pick out just one. “Oh, I love them all!” is her enthusiastic reply. The Walk to End ALS is possibly the one she finds most endearing, however, she adores them all and will jump at the opportunity to share them with you. Mention any involvement with the Winnipeg Jets and her eyes light up with excitement.
So what does the future hold for Gail? Although retired, she leads a busy life. As a volunteer, she is involved with the Charleswood United Church and Home Instead. She has been a part of the ALS family now for eleven years. As she drives around Winnipeg, she notices the doors of various charities closing, possibly for good, as fundraising opportunities diminish under Covid and donations drop. She finds it sad to see.
Since losing David, Gail finds life different when you are suddenly living by yourself. “Your friends remain the same and your friends are amazing…but life is different when you are missing your other half”, she reflects. Now, having just celebrated her 80th birthday (with a special surprise from her daughters), Gail is as excited as ever to come in and help out. She can be found here every Tuesday and Thursday, and her family and friends all know it. It is her place to interact with other people that have a connection with ALS. A chance to be of service. A chance to give back, stemming from a heart of thankfulness, a portion of the help she received from the ALS Society of Manitoba.
If you enjoy reading our ALS stories and reflections, check out our full listing of Stories.