“Just once I’d like to taste the good life”

Bob Maheu has been a cement truck conveyor driver for Lafarge Concrete for five years. When he was hired on at Lafarge, it meant driving in from Lafontaine and working the hours that are available. He brought with him to this job experience in sheet metal, and in running an ill-fated motel on Hwy 69.

When you’re a cement truck driver you get paid for the hours you work… sometimes it’s long hours and days when construction is good and there are a lot of shovels in the ground. Other times it’s few hours over few days and there’s not enough work to go around.

For Bob Maheu and many like him, the recession of the past year has meant juggling meagre income to pay the bills because there just isn’t enough work in construction.

So Bob and his wife, Louise, who works as a clerk at Zellers in Midland, have watched their income shrink with the economy as their utility bills increase along with everything else. They’ve raised their two daughters, Holly and Nicole, and are proud of their accomplishments.

In mid-December, Bob’s boss, Wayne Tutt, dropped by his house to give him his safety award, a jacket with the Lafarge insignia. This gift made Bob feel proud of the organization he works for and the joint effort it takes to keep their safety record so high. The fact that Wayne took time to actually deliver the jacket to his home made Bob feel deep gratitude.

With the jacket was an envelope. And in the envelope was a letter that said it was time for Bob and Louise to taste the good life. Tour folders, destination descriptions and a presentation folder about Celebrity Cruise Line’s Solstice hit Bob squarely as he looked at everything. He looked up at Wayne with a question mark on his face.

Wayne explained that the whole Lafarge community, branch plants all over Canada, and some of their best Simcoe County customers, had all contributed to make it possible for Bob and Louise to ‘have a taste of the good life’ and experience a Caribbean cruise. Bob was speechless.

“Tasting the good life” was the phrase Bob had used almost a year ago when doctors confirmed a diagnosis of prostate cancer with secondary development in his chest and lymph system. Bob was given a death sentence, really, at that time and as he sank in the company locker room in despair, it was the conversation he had with his boss, Wayne, that brought him back to life.

“I said to Wayne that this was horrible, and I couldn’t stop crying. I told him that just once I’d like to taste the good life, that I’d like to take my wife on a cruise. Working with one salary, raising two kids, there’s been no money to do extra things,” Bob recalls. The conversation ended there. Bob knew Wayne cared and somehow he stood up and carried on.

But Wayne didn’t stop there… the emails went out and the money poured in and in December the Maheu’s received their airline and cruise tickets for their trip of a lifetime. It includes even spending money. The trip will not cost them one nickel.

Bob is humbled by the actions of his fellow workers. “We’re leaving Fort Lauderdale on February 7 and coming back on February 14. We’re going to San Juan, Puerto Rico, then to St Martine, then to St Kitts, and we are so ecstatic. Christine, the travel agent who lives near Wayne, gave us our flight time, our cabin numbers on the ship and the money to buy luggage, and Wayne even called my wife’s work and booked the time off for her.

“The thing is that we went to the Lafarge Christmas party at the end of November and all those guys knew and they all contributed to the fund and not one of them said a thing!

“The feelings I have for these guys, it makes the pain I’m enduring so bearable,” says Bob.

With treatments that cost $2000 every three months, Bob’s medication is buying him time. He’s hoping it buys him enough time to see his daughter Nicole, 29, get married in 2010; his daughter Holly graduate, and for him to celebrate his 60th birthday. Those are his goals.

He muses about how to deal with walking by himself to his own death. He is honest about his days of great lows, of grief so gripping that its hold is everything to him. He talks about his anger, his sadness that 41 years of working aren’t enough. But mostly Bob talks about his gratitude. He’s grateful for the people who care enough about him, and about Louise, to make this trip possible. He’s grateful for his boss, Wayne, who stopped an incredibly hectic schedule to sit in a locker room and listen to an employee’s incredibly sad story and who cared enough to encourage him to live what he has left as well as possible.

Bob’s focussed on gratitude. He’s focussed on the fact that by continuing to work he can maintain his medical benefits and lessen his out-of-pocket costs for cancer medication. He’s focussed on the days he can work and the recession that knocks the stuffing out of his industry.

“As a couple we’re carrying on. We go to work. We pay our bills. We know what’s going to happen. We can kind of prepare ourselves, but how do I walk myself to my death? I don’t know how to do that.”

And as Bob and Louise carry on, the bright light that gives them energy right now is the plane ride and the embarkation at Fort Lauderdale onto Celebrity’s five star ship, Solstice where there are a dozen dance floors that they plan to dance on. And it’s due to the caring and generosity of the Lafarge community that ‘the good life’ is going to be theirs.

Thanks, Wayne.