Today, as we observe Remembrance Day in Canada and many other nations around the world, there are two words on my mind: “remembrance” and “gratitude.” And those words usher in memories of two Operation Eyesight donors who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Every year, Heather Arseneault makes a donation to Operation Eyesight in memory of her late parents, Hazel and Alastair MacDonald. A few months ago, we had the privilege of speaking with Heather and hearing the details of her parents’ incredible love story.
Born in the early 1920s, Hazel and Alastair both grew up in Winnipeg, MB. They had attended the same high school, however, it wasn’t until the war brought them both to Europe that they actually met. Hazel was an entertainer with the W-Debs and Alastair (known as Mac by his flying buddies) was a bomb aimer, both with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
At one of the W-Deb performances, Alastair recognized the “short one on the right” as a girl from Winnipeg. That night, Alastair went back to his barracks and told his fly mates that he had met the woman he was going to marry. And so the story goes…
On April 14, 1945, Hazel and Alastair were married in a bombed out church in London, England – the necessary church in London for their legal marriage certificate. A second ceremony was held in another church where their friends could attend.
“My parents had a fairy tale life right from the beginning,” says Heather.
After the war, they returned to Canada, following Alastair’s working career from Saskatchewan, to B.C. and Alberta, and then to Ontario. After two decades in their home country, an international job posting took them to Johannesburg, South Africa. They later moved to Stamford, Connecticut and eventually retired in Vancouver, B.C. in their early 70s. Meanwhile, they travelled the world.
Hazel and Alastair passed away in 2000 and 2013, respectively. They were deeply loved by their friends and family who remember them as generous donors with a door that was always open.
“They were always giving to and caring for total strangers if they saw them in need,” explains Heather. “And that’s what charity is all about.”
Heather recalls the time her father brought two hitchhikers home for breakfast, and the time he invited two strangers from the airport to stay at their place for the night, as the couple had been bumped from their flight.
“Dad was a real character with a big heart,” she says.
Much of Hazel and Alastair’s teachings – charity being one of them – have been carried on by Heather and her two sisters in their honour.
Operation Eyesight was Hazel’s favourite charity. She and Alastair often made contributions to Operation Eyesight in the names of their six grandchildren. Hazel also hosted and helped organize fundraisers.
Heather says the reason her mother was so passionate about Operation Eyesight’s work was that she wore corrective lenses herself; she wanted those less fortunate than her to regain the precious gift of sight as well.
“Since Mom and Dad have passed, there’s been a lot of tearful moments, a lot of laughter and a lot of story sharing,” says Heather. She’s thankful to have had such amazing parents as role models. She’s already started encouraging her own children to continue to give for a third generation.
“They say it starts at home, but it’s not always close by,” says Heather. “You can give to those you know, those you may meet, and even those whose path you will never cross. I know that because of the household I grew up in.”
Thank you for sharing your family’s story with us, Heather. Your parents were truly remarkable people, and we are so happy to hear that they’ve passed their lessons of giving onto their children and grandchildren. Thank you to you and your family for supporting Operation Eyesight for what will soon be three full generations!