John Hillman’s hands do a little shake in the air after they shoot off his lap.
“I’m feeling excited. It’s all been a surprise to me, I wasn’t expecting this. I’m delighted.”
That excitement stemmed from a string of events celebrating the Second World War veteran’s 103rd birthday on March 18, including a banquet dinner, a town crier proclamation and a call from Canada’s immigration minister.
“We are all gathered to celebrate the 103rd birthday of an amazing, inspirational gentleman,” town crier Kenny Podmore said, addressing a full banquet hall at Oak Bay’s Carlton House residence.
Hillman said he feels no different at 103 than he did at 100. He was grateful for the birthday honours, but didn’t really get all the fuss being made for him.
“I feel very lucky and after today, I feel extremely honoured,” he said.
As he prepared to head back into the banquet hall, Hillman quipped that the day’s excitement meant he hadn’t yet thought about what he’d say to the room, and that he definitely hadn’t thought about dinner.
“I’m not even hungry.”
The veteran is a permanent resident of Canada. The first big development of his birthday was a call from Sean Fraser, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, where he encouraged Hillman to apply for citizenship.
“You epitomize to me what would make an extraordinary Canadian citizen,” the minister said during the call.
Hillman said it would bring him a lot of pride to be a full citizen.
“I do owe Canada a lot, (it’s) been extremely good to me.”
Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, helped set up the call and, along with Podmore, will be taking care of Hillman’s citizenship application. Fraser also indicated he’d waive the fee for the application, May said, adding there’s a good chance Hillman is a citizen by his next birthday.
“For this extraordinary almost-Canadian citizen, we need to be able to claim him as our own,” she said.
Hillman gained some celebrity in recent years for walking the courtyard at Carlton House, where he lives, to raise money for Save the Children. He’s raised upwards of $150,000 after doing enough laps to match his age the last two years and is ready to bring the fundraiser back this spring, when he’ll go for 103 rounds.
“The children have got to face unknown things that even I could not have envisioned. Anything that we can do to help them along, I would love to do.”
The birthday celebrations brought smiles to Hillman’s face, but he deeply wished he could have shared it with Irene, his cherished wife of 79 years, whom he lost last summer.
“I miss her daily, in fact, hourly. We had a wonderful marriage.”
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