The list of accomplishments is extraordinary:
Air force pilot, weatherman, athlete, coach, sailor, scuba diver, author, government sleuth, falconer, breeder of champion dogs, life-saver, husband, father, grandfather and, now, great-grandfather.
And the footnote on Bevan William’s curriculum vitae should read: One of the longest living people in B.C. who have Parkinson’s disease.
“He’s an amazing person. Having Parkinson’s does not mean the end,” says Connie, his wife of 57 years.
The so-called end, was just another beginning that day in 1970 when Bevan’s good friend, fellow track coach and family doctor, the legendary Dr. Doug Clement, took him aside.
“There were tears in eyes. He was quite shaken,” Bevan recalls. “He started talking about Parkinson’s and he said, ‘I want to tell you, you’ve got it and there’s nothing we can do to help.’ His dad had died of Parkinson’s and he recognized the symptoms in me.”
Clement had noticed the subtle shake in Bevan’s hands, the tell-tale sign of Parkinson’s.
It’s a progressive and degenerative neurological disorder which causes tremors, trembling, muscle rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty speaking and swallowing.
All the symptoms would eventually catch up with Bevan, but they weren’t about to stop his life.
And what a life.
He had spotted the girl of his dreams in high school, married her and spent 55 years together in the same Richmond home raising four children.
He was an all-round athlete in school and a gifted runner, but not quite as good as one of the true B.C. track and field greats.
“I raced with Harry Jerome!” says a beaming Bevan. “Wow, was he fast! He just took off like a shot.”
From high school he joined the Canadian Air Force and learned to fly single-engine Harvards. Flying remains a passion.
“I’d love to get up again…just need to find someone with a pilot’s licence,” he says hopefully.
From the air force it was off to college to become a meteorologist. And, of course, with Bevan, being a weatherman was every bit of an adventure as flying.
He secured a good job with the federal government and was charged with inspecting and outfitting weather equipment on ships visiting Vancouver’s port.
That led to an interesting sideline as the “eyes and ears” of the federal snoops, particularly during the hey-day of the Cold War.
Bevan recalls the time a Russian fishing boat stopped in Vancouver and he went on board to have a look.
“This great, big ugly brute wouldn’t let me go up to the bridge,” he says, his blue eyes twinkling with delight. “I just said, ‘I’m a government inspector! I have the right.’ But, really, I had no right at all and I was getting kind of nervous.”
Nevertheless, bold and fearless Bevan marched up the bridge and quickly suspected something was amiss.
The entire vessel looked far too clean to be a real fishing boat. The hands of the so-called fishermen were all smooth with hardly a callus. And to top it off, it appeared that a large piece of equipment had been suddenly removed from the bridge.
When he was finally allowed to leave, Bevan placed a call to his intelligence contacts and then they had a much more formal visit with the Russian spy ship.
“There goes my pension,” jokes Bevan as he recounts the story.
He’s also brave. Connie says he’s saved a dozen people from drowning, including one very dramatic incident in Mexico when Bevan and another man pulled five people from the water.
He saved another friend when they were young and he also rescued his scuba diving instructor who had suffered a mini-stroke during a lesson.
Traveling has always been a passion for the Williams family. They cruised the coastal waters in their sailboat Ruckus and in retirement they spent the winters camping in Mexico.
After learning he had Parkinson’s, another specialist told Bevan he would never live past five years.
Bevan and Connie didn’t believe it for a second. They went to see another specialist and continued living out their shared adventure.
Connie says the doctors at the University of B.C. have been amazing. When Bevan was 70, he underwent a surgical procedure that delivers electrical stimulation to his brain.
The results were remarkable, says Connie. His hands stopped shaking and he no longer had to take several kinds of medication.
Three years ago they left their long-time home in Richmond and moved to a magnificent ocean-view condo in Campbell River to be closer to family.
Now, at 78, Bevan is slowing down and dementia, related to Parkinson’s, is beginning to take hold.
It’s difficult, admits Connie, but she’s grateful for local support like the Adult Care Society in Willow Point where Bevan visits three times a week. There’s also the Parkinson’s support group and there’s respite assistance.
“We just fell in love with Campbell River and this has been a wonderful community,” she says.
From their fourth floor condo, Bevan and Connie enjoy a sweeping view of the Discovery Passage, Strait of Georgia and Discovery Islands. The old weatherman – one of the longest living people with Parkinson’s in B.C. – loves the view, especially when the storms blow in.
Connie smiles and takes her husband’s hand.
“Not bad for living with Parkinson’s,” she says. “We decided to make the best of it and we’ve had a great life.”
- April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. The Parkinson’s support group meets every second Wednesday. Call Pat at 250-286-1354 for more information.