New Westminster News Leader

Siblings ‘tile one on’ for Royal Columbian

Photo contributed/RCH As a Christmas present Roy Brainerd gave his sister a tile for the maternity wall at Royal Columbian Hospital. He ended up buying three for the fundraising project since both were born at RCH as was his daughter Jayne. - RCH Foundation
Photo contributed/RCH As a Christmas present Roy Brainerd gave his sister a tile for the maternity wall at Royal Columbian Hospital. He ended up buying three for the fundraising project since both were born at RCH as was his daughter Jayne.
— image credit: RCH Foundation

When staff on the maternity wards at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) suggested commemorative walls as a way to raise money, they envisioned parents and relatives of newborns purchasing them to celebrate their blessed events. But an octogenarian wanted in on the fun.

Roy Brainerd, 84, bought a tile for a wall for himself, his sister, Pat White, 81, and his daughter Jayne, 54.

“We’re the oldest new babies,” said Brainerd as he smiled at his sister in the hospital foundation’s boardroom Tuesday.

When Brainerd, a regular donor to the RCH and Burnaby Hospital foundations, saw the announcement the hospital was selling artistic tiles for the maternity and neonatal intensive care units he liked the idea. He’d been born there on March 2, 1928 and since White was too—May 15, 1931—he thought he’d surprise her for Christmas.

“I thought it was pretty nice. I didn’t think they wanted old people, but they’ll take the money,” said Brainerd with a hearty laugh.

“He’s the rich one,” joked White.

They certainly didn’t grow up rich. The Brainerds were raised during the Depression and Second World War years on what is now Hardwick Street in central Burnaby in a home heated by a wood stove. Although elementary school was just down the street at Douglas Road, for high school they had to make a steep five-kilometre trek up Sperling Avenue to attend Burnaby South secondary on Kingsway.

Brainerd quit school when he was 15 to work for Snap-On Tools, staying with them for 41 years before retiring. For 11 of those years his sales territory was New Westminster. The Royal City, Sixth Avenue near Queen’s Park to be precise, is also where he and his wife Carol called home for 17 years raising three daughters. Since then they’ve accumulated seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Now they live in Burnaby near the Crest Shopping Centre.

White worked for CN Telegraph when they still used Morse code before joining the federal tax department. She and husband Larry raised their three sons in a home near Burnaby Hospital but now live in Langley.

The tile was supposed to be Brainerd’s surprise Christmas present for his sister, but it didn’t quite work out that way. When the hospital foundation found out about their story, organizers wanted to use it to promote the campaign as a Christmas present Dec. 19 but that was postponed until this week because of a bout of wicked winter weather that day. By then, the surprise was ruined.

“I got forced to tell her because they wanted to take pictures,” says Brainerd.

She didn’t get to see her tile, however, until Tuesday. The tile Brainerd selected features a kitten in a tea cup. “We drink a lot of tea,” cracked Brainerd.

Foundation communications director Julie Coghlan said the staff on the wards thought a commemorative wall would be “a huge opportunity.” When RCHF went looking for a designer they found out international illustrator Issie Heikkilä was working in the Vancouver area.

“We did not have a huge budget and she agreed, which was amazing,” says Coughlan. “Her work is outstanding and unique.”

The wall in the waiting area of the maternity ward is festooned with Heikkila’s cute caricatures of walruses, dogs and cats in all sorts of quirky situations.

“We didn’t want it to be too babyish, we wanted it to last and be fun. She’s got quite a quirky touch,” says Coughlan.

As the tiles are purchased they will be placed on the wall in random lines sprouting from a sign saying “Sometimes the smallest things make up the most room in your heart.” The tiles are being sold in three sizes ranging in price from $100 to $250 and state the name, date of birth and weight, although Brainerds’ doesn’t because they can’t find records saying what they were.

Since the campaign was launched on the hospital’s 150th anniversary, Oct. 7, 2012, the foundation has raised nearly $5,000 with a goal of $12,000.

“I’m thrilled. It’s going very well,” said Coughlan of the response.

Of those already up, Brainerd’s and White’s have by far the earliest birth date on them.

“There’s no one else older, they’re all dead,” deadpanned Brainerd.

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