Like many older veterans, 92-year-old Ernie (Ernest) Dodgson is proud to have served in the military, but does not spend a lot of time talking about it.
Ernie, who lives with his beloved wife Mary in the Houses of Providence, has contributed a lifetime of service in many roles: as a veteran, volunteer and devoted caregiver. His daughter Claire is grateful he is “getting the best care” at the Houses of Providence, singling out resident assistant Maxine Baracatt for her compassionate care of both her parents.
“She treats my father with dignity,” says Claire, noting how important this is to her family in return for the support Ernie has offered to others throughout his life, starting with military service.
Ernie enlisted in Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) in the early 1950s during the Korean War, a conflict immortalized in the series M*A*S*H. The RAF ran transport and reconnaissance operations out of Iwakuni, Japan. Ernie was stationed in England as a cook to feed the troops, cooking everything from soups to sweets. Claire relates his ability to feed a crowd came in handy in their family. She remembers his golden Yorkshire puddings, tasty stews and big ‘fry-ups’ after church on Sundays.
He met Mary quite literally by accident at a roller-skating rink when he saw her fall down. He skated over to assist her, then learned her name. That’s how their love story began. When the couple moved to Canada, they didn’t have many possessions, but Ernie made sure to pack his roller skates. The skates are still around, and the marriage is still strong nearly 70 years on.
After settling in Toronto, Ernie got odd jobs as a painter and decorator. His income wasn’t steady, but over the years, Ernie was generous with his time, leading a Boy Scout troop, volunteering with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to support people experiencing poverty and driving cancer patients to and from treatments.
Meanwhile, he remained an active and involved veteran, for a time serving as president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 13, attending every Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph and marching in the CNE Warriors’ Day Parade every year.
He continued with these commitments even after he got a full-time job as a painter at a downtown hospital, a job he kept untill he retired and became Mary’s caregiver. She had been diagnosed with a progressive disease that left her disabled.
“He has always been a very humble man, but he did all the caregiving—laundry, cooking and cleaning,” Claire recalls. “He would help her get into and out of bed, dress her, feed her.”
In 2018, he agreed to move into the Houses of Providence on the understanding that he could live with Mary. They moved into a shared suite and have stayed together ever since.
Claire looks back at all the things her father has done and says she feels like she “won the lottery” with her Dad, and that’s why she’s glad he’s at Providence Healthcare today.
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