WWII veteran celebrates 100th birthday
By Brittany Willsie
Lee Painter celebrated his one hundredth birthday on Thursday, June 18.
The WWII veteran moved into Westview Lodge only four years ago and staff organized a surprise celebration for his special day.
Nellie Nielsen, activity coordinator at Westview Lodge, said they were determined to plan something, even considering the COVID-19 restrictions.
To help keep everyone in attendance safe, Nielsen said Westview Lodge staff watched to make sure people were standing back and distancing themselves six feet away from others. People attending were also asked to wear masks.
“Everything is on social media right now with what people are doing for special occasions, so I thought well we can do that here too for Lee, he deserves that being a veteran,” she said.
Painter said the surprise started early in the day when he had balloons tied to his chair.
“I had no idea anything like this would happen. No, I did not. Well, I’m just so grateful that some of these people turned out for me. It was great,” Painter said.
At 10 a.m., members of the Presbyterian Church sang to Painter from outside his window. Then, an hour later, he went outside to the front of the building for the biggest part of his surprise.
RCMP vehicles pulled into the parking lot and circled around with their lights flashing. After they parked, Nancy Gilbert started playing the bagpipes. While playing, she marched across the parking lot, leading a dozen legion members.
Painter tapped his foot to the bagpipes and smiled as they marched up to him.
“When I heard the skirl of them pipes it sure perked me up,” said Painter. “I was in the Calgary Highlanders Scottish regiment and I followed them damned old pipes all the way.”
Painter served in the military from 1940 to 1945, seeing action in France, Holland, Germany and Belgium. He was also present at the Dieppe Raid on Aug. 19, 1942 where 916 Canadians lost their lives.
After the war, Painter returned to his hometown of Huxley, Alta. At the train station he was given a $2 drink ticket for the Royal Canadian Legion. He was a legion member for 73 years.
“Them old pipes did a lot for me,” he laughed.
Comrade Terry O’Callahan from the Royal Canadian Legion in Rocky Mountain House said it’s an honour to help celebrate Painter’s one hundredth birthday.
“There’s not too many WWII vets out there. To have somebody like Lee Painter here in Rocky Mountain House, for me it’s an honour to be involved with [the celebration] and same with everybody else in the legion,” he said.
Painter’s daughter, Ann Cunningham, and son, Howard Painter, both attended the celebration.
Cunningham said she had tears in her eyes.
“It’s just amazing that he’s 100 and still has his mind and still has his humour and his positive attitude,” she said.
Howard said his dad is a tough act to follow.
“He’s setting the bar a little high being that old,” he chuckled.
“If I’m ever stuck for answers, I can ask him because he’s got most of the answers right or questions. He’s amazing the way he’s held on.”
They both added that they are very proud of him and that he is a great role model.
When asked about reaching 100 years, Painter reflected on the changes he has witnessed.
“Living this long I’ve seen a lot of changes, more changes I think in this world than had happened three hundred years before that. It’s changing every day,” he said.
Painter decided on his own to move into Westview Lodge in 2016. He spoke fondly of the staff.
“I just don’t know where they can round up a staff that are so damn thoughtful for the residents. This is a good establishment and that’s something that most seniors didn’t have very long ago … I just can’t say enough about the staff.”
The staff members are equally as fond of Painter. Nielsen said he has lots of energy and a good sense of humour.
“He is the best. He is seriously full of piss and vinegar. He always has a joke, or a funny comment and just always happy and really well liked by all of the residents. He visits with everybody and scoots himself around in his wheelchair. You wouldn’t know he’s 100.”