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B.C. war veteran John Hillman, dead at 105, raised thousands for children's charity

Second World War veteran John Hillman, shown in a handout photo, raises his hands in triumph after completing 104 laps of his Victoria, B.C., retirement home as part of an annual fundraising walk for Save the Children, one lap for each year of his life. Hillman died Monday at the age of 105. THE CANADIAN PRESS /HO

OAK BAY — Second World War veteran John Hillman, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity in the last years of his life, died Monday at the age of 105.

Hillman gained widespread attention in 2020 for his fundraising efforts for Save the Children Canada's COVID relief fund, raising $169,000 while pushing his walker around the courtyard of his Oak Bay retirement home.

Hillman's daughter Lynn McDiarmid lives in nearby Victoria, B.C., and said he was a supportive father, always well-mannered and "always a gentleman."

She said her father's health had taken a turn for the worse in the past few weeks, his eyesight and hearing were failing him, but up until that point he'd been "blessed with a very sound, solid mind even at 105."

McDiarmid said her father had been inspired by a fellow war veteran in the U.K. to begin his fundraising walks at Carlton House retirement home where he lived before being moved to another facility.

Hillman was "gung-ho" to do the fundraising walks, she said, and with the support of Carlton House, the tradition carried on for several years.

"He became quite the celebrity here in Oak Bay and everybody knew him," she said in an interview Wednesday. "He loved it."

In a statement, Save the Children Canada said Hillman's annual walks raised more than $440,000, and the charity's president Danny Glenwright said Hillman remains an inspiration for his commitment to help children affected by war, conflict and climate change.

Glenwright said he first met Hillman in 2022 and was struck by his sharp mind at such an advanced age, concluding Hillman was not a "typical centenarian."

Hillman's charity walks, beginning when he turned 101, saw the veteran walking the courtyard of Carlton House retirement home, one lap for each year of his life.

Glenwright said Wednesday that Hillman was focused on making each year "bigger than ever" to raise awareness and more funds for children suffering throughout the world, and he cherished video messages the charity shared with him from children who benefited from his fundraising efforts.

"He just really seemed like he was going to go on forever, so we were surprised and shocked and, and saddened by the news," Glenwright said. "John was just such an incredible champion of our work at Save the Children and of children around the world, especially children in crisis."

McDiarmid said her father's passing wasn't expected, but also not a shock given his age and ailing health, but her father had no particular secrets to his longevity.

"People asked him that all the time. He had no idea. You know, he came through the war with rationing, so it wasn't a diet thing," she said. "He was lucky, but he made the most of it."

McDiarmid said her father's sight and hearing problems near the end led to him being isolated, and though it's difficult dealing with his loss, she said she was "sort of comforted" since he'd lived so long and seen and done so much.

"It was time for him to go and what more can you say?" she said. "He lived a very full, happy, rewarding life."

Hillman's wife, Irene, died in 2021 at the age of 100.

- By Darryl Greer in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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