written by Trish Weatherall
reprinted with permission from North Island Gazette
Serving Country and Community: Adventures of a Volunteer
An adventurous spirit has steered BC Community Achievement Award winner Wayne Beckett toward the kind community service not everyone has the courage and composure for. The former Navy leading seaman has been a volunteer fire-fighter for more than 40 years, is a lifetime Royal Canadian Legion member, was a volunteer Coast Guard for 18 years, a Scout Leader, and is a helper or participant in almost every community event in Port Alice.
Growing up in Dunnville, Ontario, he joined the Navy in 1960 at age 18. He helped evacuate Canadians from Cypress during the 1962 conflicts and chased Russian trawlers during the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. He travelled the world by ship from Greenland to Antarctic, along the coasts of North and South America, Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean. He was once washed overboard The Gatineau without a life jacket, off of Newfoundland. What did he do?
“I swam,” he replies matter-of-factly. “The ship behind us picked me up. I was in the water for about 15-20 minutes. It was pretty warm in the Gulf Stream that comes up from Mexcio. About 72 degrees.”
He also spent two weeks on a submarine which he describes as “just like you see in the movies”, with the sonar ping day and night, and the ceilings and doorways too low for the 6-foot-three sailor.
He spent a few civilian years working in Ontario, and in 1973 Wayne accepted a job at the former Western Pulp mill in Port Alice where he worked until he retired in 2003.
On December 15, 1973, a major mudslide filled Port Alice streets with boulders, logs and mud up to eight feet deep. Wayne went out looking to help people out of their homes. Later, volunteer fire department members asked him to join them officially. He has been Deputy Chief for the past four years, was Captain for 30 years, and has carried a radio or pager 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week for about 20 years.
He’s dealt with quite a few fires in and once encountered a backdraft at a house fire that literally blew him and another firefighter off the deck.
“Singed my ears,” he laughs. “They’re still scarred.”
A once-avid boater and fisherman, Wayne spent 18 years on the Port Alice Auxiliary Coast Guard, now known as Royal Canadian Marine Search & Rescue. There weren’t many call-outs, but the practices jumping waves in a 15-foot rigid inflatable boat (RIB) were exciting enough. He tells of one interesting ‘rescue’ he attended when a boat broke down while out fishing and needed a tow home. The owner was the head of the Port Alice Coast Guard.
A passion for camping and a Scout himself as a boy, he became a Scout leader in 1973, while his wife Cathy led the younger Cubs. Over twelve years, he took them on local camping trips, escorted eight North Island boys to the Canadian Scout Jamboree in PEI in 1977, and 16 Scouts to the BC Jamboree at Douglas Lake Ranch in 1979.
After 42 years with the Royal Canadian Legion Wayne is an honoured Life Member. His role as Sergeant-of-Arms for the past 34 year is to police the meetings, and lead the annual Remembrance Day parade.
At 72, the 6-foot-3 community man still works a few hours a day maintaining the Port Alice plaza property, and is still called upon to perform security duty at local events, including the upcoming Port Alice 50th Anniversary Reunion.
“I can’t sit around, I gotta move,” he says with a grin.