ST. JOHN's, NL - Bob Corbett spent the better part of his life on the front lines.
He was in uniform his entire life serving in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (RNR) military reserve unit for 32 years and was a member of the RNR regimental band (tuba) before retiring as a sergeant and he was with the St. John’s Regional Fire Department for 33 years, retiring as deputy chief of fire operations.
During those years, he answered the call more than any combination of people could imagine when someone or anyone needed assistance.
So when the roles were reversed that Corbett and his family were the ones in need, a group of his colleagues and friends stepped up to the plate to ensure his lifetime of service to others was repaid in kind.
His friend and fellow firefighting retiree Lloyd Grandy walked away from a conversation he had with Corbett and within a day Grandy had launched a plan to help build a ramp on the front of Corbett’s condo so his friend’s home would be accessible for him following a pair of surgeries that saw both of his legs amputated as the result of complications caused by diabetes.
“Lloyd went to the union and asked them for help and they granted him money to do the project. He then showed up with 10 guys — he thought that was enough — to do the work,’’ Corbett said.
“So I shook myself and said I have to get my arse our of bed and get going. I’ve got to help myself so I can get home to Mary and the grandkids.”
- Bob Corbett
“The old adage you measure twice and cut once didn’t apply on this project. I’ll bet you Lloyd Grandy measured 15 times before he cut once. He and the guys who did this for me had this all figured out before anything started,’’ he added.
A self-professed labourer, Bob said he is amazed with the guys who built his ramp, including Grandy, for the skills they have.
“I have been involved in lots of projects, did a bunch of work for children with muscular dystrophy. And there has been so much we have done for other firefighters, but I never expected anything like this for me,’’ he said.
“But I guess that is just what we do. We help each other and that is why I am sure these guys came by to help me.”
Corbett lost his legs in two surgeries, the first on April 20 and the second one on July 13.
He is also on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Until he is granted one, he goes three days a week for dialysis.
The kidney issues arose after he contracted influenza several years ago.
He said the diabetes was a hereditary issue as seven of the nine children in his family suffer from diabetes.
During his extended stay in hospital after his major surgeries, he lost more than 100 pounds. Ironically since that occurred, he hasn’t required the insulin that kept his diabetes in check.
“The extra weight only compounds the illness. I was never overweight, but was very stocky and blocky,’’ he said.
As a bilateral amputee with a lot of time on his hands, Bob admits he was getting depressed. But through all that he never lost his faith.
He was listening to music on his phone one day, feeling pity for himself in some form or another when he heard “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.” Something resonated about that song at that very moment, and he made a vow on the spot.
“I said that is what I have to do to get out of here. It wasn’t going to get me down any more. I have too much to live for.
“So I shook myself and said, I have to get my arse our of bed and get going. I’ve got to help myself so I can get home to Mary and the grandkids.”
But getting to that home took a lot of work on the other side of his marriage as his wife Mary was faced with everything else.
The Corbett’s had lived on 4th Street in Mount Pearl for years, but were forced to sell their home because Bob was unable to navigate stairs.
So Mary went to work with the help of her daughter and found a condo on Ruby Line, did all the work, purchased it, and the first time Bob got to see it was the day she brought him home from the Miller Centre, following his second rehabilitation.
“Over our 48-years together, normally we did everything together. As luck would have it, one of my daughters is away in Halifax, so our youngest daughter helped me out tremendously by lining up a real estate agent and looking at houses,” Mary said.
“I am so appreciative of the fact the boys came and did this (ramp) for us. Bob was lucky that he had the union to fund this project for him. There are others who are not as fortunate who are left to wonder ‘where am I going to get the money to do this?’”
“I think there should be some sort of program to help those people.”
Go figure — a firefighter’s family worrying about the well-being of others.