Ray, a resident of Tapestry since 2017, is one of our company’s Ambassadors – volunteer community spokespeople who are pleased to share what they love about their life and living at Tapestry. We are very pleased to share Ray’s story in print and video.
As he puts on his boxing gloves and prepares for his weekly work-out, Ray doesn’t think about winning or trying to beat the competition. Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago, today Ray is focused on battling the disease and swinging hard to help stop the progression of symptoms that increasingly make even the simplest of tasks a challenge.
“Sometimes when I box, I think ‘you silly old fool’,” says Ray, reflecting on the boxing class he helped introduce to Tapestry at Arbutus Walk. “But then I remember, I’m boxing to have fun, to stay healthy and to keep this disease from progressing as much as is possible.”
Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Ray’s memories of growing up on the Prairies are as clear as a bright winter sky. With his father serving in Europe during World War Two, Ray was left in the care of his two older sisters and mother.
Ray remembers the simplicity of getting by during these hard times. “I remember cold winters and sitting around the radio hoping for a more positive weather forecast,” he says. “I also remember eating a lot of root vegetables!” Ray’s playful humour highlights his positive outlook on life.
When Ray’s father returned from war, the family packed up and moved to Vancouver. “That is when the fun began,” says Ray. “When I saw the mountains, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.”
Ray grew up in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood of East Vancouver and attended Gladstone Secondary School. With many memories of shopping at the big box stores downtown and paddling on Trout Lake on his makeshift raft, Ray thought there couldn’t be a better place to be a child.
“My older sister used to work at the Commercial Drive Theatres and she made sure I could get in to see the movies for free,” say Ray, smiling as he remembers some of his favourite blockbusters of the time.
After secondary school, Ray attended the University of British Columbia (UBC). He received a scholarship to study metallurgical engineering and promptly spent his windfall on an engagement ring for Elnora, the lovely young woman that would become his wife of 60 years.
Upon completing his degree, Ray and Elnora ventured to the U.K. where he completed his Ph.D. Moving to England as newlyweds was an exciting time for Ray and his wife. England in the 1960s was buzzing with excitement and Ray remembers how a small Liverpool band, The Beatles, was making their meteoric rise as rock-and-roll took over the music scene.
“England is also where I truly fell in love with classical music,” says Ray. His school, The Royal School of Mines was across the street from the famous Albert Hall, and he and Elnora would often find last-minute tickets.
In the following years, Ray and Elnora started a family having three kids in three years. Elnora transitioned from being a primary school teacher into a full-time mother, and as Ray would say, “she was doing the real work in the family.”
With Elnora at home, Ray’s successful career was beginning to bloom as he accepted a faculty position at MIT for three years after which he joined Canada’s largest steelmaker, Stelco. It wasn’t until Ray received a call from UBC for an opportunity to be the head of the metallurgical engineering department, that this family of proud Vancouverites returned to British Columbia.
“I truly enjoyed being a professor, but I found I was ready for retirement since I had been working since high school.” With a few of Elnora’s friends already living in the community, Tapestry at Arbutus Walk was the natural next move for the couple.
At the age of 73, Ray noticed some minor vibration sensations and decided to see a doctor. It was a visit that would change his life forever.
Ray was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. His symptoms started gradually and were sometimes barely noticeable, however, over time routine tasks became more difficult.
“When you’ve got (Parkinson’s), you got it, and you can’t get rid of it. Some of the things that were once easy are getting harder, but they are not getting harder at breakneck speed.”
Ever the achiever and reflecting the legacy of a resilient father, Ray sought ideas to try and halt the progression of Parkinson’s. Research showed that boxing might be neuro-protective, meaning it could slow the progression of the disease.
Ray approached Tapestry’s kinesiologist, Brian Chua, and together they initiated a boxing for Parkinson’s class that has now become one of the most popular work-outs at Tapestry at Arbutus Walk.
“I was very happy with the response from Tapestry. Whether it stops the progression of Parkinson’s or not, you can have a lot of fun boxing.”
Ray equates his diagnosis of Parkinson’s much like a battle. “It can make you mad,” he says, thinking of what he has lost, like his ability to play guitar or finish a conversation without any hesitation.
“The boxing may not stop the Parkinson’s, but it does allow me to have fun and to feel good at the same time,” says Ray.
Ray’s positive outlook on life and his determined mindset to keep active has encouraged other residents to join him every Saturday at the boxing for Parkinson’s class. “While others may not have Parkinson’s, we are all in the ‘battle’ to live a longer, happy and healthy life. It’s important not to be too serious and to just have fun.”