Gord Hartshorne was seven when a representative from the lung association made a presentation about the dangers of smoking to his class at Deep Cove school.
The scare tactics, which the organization used in the early 1970s, worked on the impressionable youngster. He ran home after school and began what would be a 35-plus year campaign trying to convince his mother, Shirley Hartshorne, to quit smoking for the good of her health.
Just before the longtime North Saanich resident died in 2009 of complications stemming from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at age 69, she called Gord to her bedside – he was her primary caregiver in her final three years – and told him, “You were right.”
“It was never about being right,” Hartshorne says, at a sitting room table in the North Saanich home he shares with his father.
Hartshorne gets emotional when talking about how, almost to the end, he would have “loving arguments about quitting smoking” with his mom, who only gave up the habit after her diagnosis of COPD in 2006.
He recalls her physical appearance in the late stages of her life and the subsequent brief, but intense battle with gall bladder failure that made her final few weeks all but unbearable.
“She looked like she had been through some kind of war,” Hartshorne says.
“She looked far older than (she was).”
Armed with many fond memories of his mother to go with the horrible ones – he also lost his uncle in 2011 to cancer – last week he completed a four-kilometre run around his neighbourhood, an annual event he refers to as the Promise Run.
The promise was a commitment he made to his mom before she died, to educate people wherever he could about the risks inherent with smoking.
He ran, not to raise funds for the B.C. Lung Association, but to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking, especially for young people just starting out.
While he encourages anyone to consider quitting smoking, he is particularly struck seeing young women lighting up.
“I can picture my mom’s face in their faces,” he says, noting there is great promise and strength in youth. “When I was a little boy it seemed like there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do.
“I just want to tell them we should value our lives, and remind them we know that smoking causes damage.”
If Hartshorne had a slogan, he says, it might be, “Quit smoking today for a healthier tomorrow.”
Anecdotal numbers indicate smoking is trending downward in general – with smoking banned indoors in the Capital Regional District less people are lighting up than in previous decades.
Smoking-related illnesses have long been in the public eye. With that in mind, Hartshorne has some advice for anyone who hasn’t yet made the decision to quit: “We know better now, so what’s our excuse?”
To donate to the B.C. Lung Association or for more information on smoking-related diseases or tips for quitting, visit www.bc.lung.ca.