Lifelong volunteer wins Caring Canadian Award

By Colleen Boicey

Kay Walker is one of 23 Canadians that will be rewarded for their devotion to helping others.

Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson is presenting Walker with the Caring Canadian award.

“She has always been a very generous person with her time, her friendship, her energy, her money. Whatever she’s got to give, she gives,” says Walker’s daughter, Ruth Kirkpatrick.

Walker, 75, is a lifelong volunteer. Recently, she has been volunteering at least four times a week at the Good Companions Seniors’ Centre. The centre seeks to improve the lives of adults 55 and older. Walker became a member in 1990.

Walker has contributed to the centres programming by volunteering in the wood shop and arts and crafts room, fundraising, making costumes, participating in performances and organizing special events. “She’s the kind of person that prefers to be in the background… She likes to work away and see that [tasks] get done,” Kirkpatrick says.

Walker’s volunteer history began in Carseland, Alta., where she grew up.

“I was fortunate in my life in that I was able to be a volunteer. I never had a paying job…I grew up on a farm and lived in small towns, so I did all the community things and the neighbourly things,” she says.

In her teens, she held barbecues to raise money for sports equipment. She was a leader in what is now the 4-H club, which is a leadership organization targeted at rural youth. Here, she took girls camping giving them an experience of a lifetime. “There are thousands of stories like this,” says Mana MacDonald, who volunteers with Walker in the arts and crafts room.

In Regina, where she lived with her first husband, former MP Les Benjamin, Walker helped bring foreign doctors to Saskatchewan during the 1962 doctor’s strike.

In 1968, when Benjamin was elected to Parliament, Walker and her family moved to Ottawa.

In her new home, Walker sponsored Vietnamese refugees and hosted students from around the world through the Experiment in International Living program.

“I don’t know how Kay’s ever juggled all of this,” says MacDonald, “overwhelmed” with Walker’s many accomplishments.

Walker also contributes time to her neighbours by making clothing alterations and repairs at her apartment. She donates money she receives to the Unitarian House, where she lives.

After the Good Companions 50th anniversary, in 2005, Walker’s commitments to the centre will not be as big. She hoped to do more volunteering at both Unitarian House and her church.

Walker says volunteering was the direction her life took her and the award was not something she was striving for, but that she is delighted to accept. “I’m proud and humbled by [the award] because circumstances have let me do this. It’s not that I set to be a good volunteer.”