One of the West Shore’s most energetic volunteers and builders has been recognized for a lifetime of community spirit and giving back to veterans and seniors.
Harry Groom, a retired army veteran who helped save the Langford Legion by partnering on a seniors and veterans housing complex that provides a revenue stream, and gave the Goldstream Food Bank a home in the Legion basement when it was in danger of closing, was recently presented with the Legion’s Meritorious Service Medal – its highest honour. The award comes 16 years after Groom was given a Legion lifetime membership.
He spent 14 years as president and in other capacities with the Western Communities Seniors Low Cost Housing Society, the organization which built the Alexander Mackie and Prince Edward lodges in partnership with the Prince Edward branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. Groom stepped down as president this year, but remains on the board of directors, along with being an advisor for many other local organizations and individuals.
One of those people is Micky Fleming, CEO of Cherish Community Living, which operates the Mackie Retirement Community and is building the Central Park seniors’ complex at Jacklin and Jenkins roads. She has worked with Groom for years to help provide seniors with affordable supported and independent housing.
She actually teamed up with Groom on the Veterans Memorial Park project in the early 2000s when she was president of the local Rotary Club.
“We were looking for a project that had local meaning and something that the kids could learn from and had international significance,” she said.
She began collaborating with Groom and Ernie Clark, whom Groom referred to as his “right-hand man.”
Groom had been talking to Mayor Stew Young about finding someplace to create a cenotaph for Langford. The area just off Goldstream Avenue, home at the time to a number of buildings in disrepair, was chosen as a site to create a park incorporating the memorial element and other recreational aspects.
These days the park is not only home to Langford’s cenotaph and the largest Remembrance Day service on the West Shore, the bronze sculpture of a veteran on a bench showing a poppy to a youth was patterned after Groom.
When the site was being considered for the park, it was also home to the Goldstream Food Bank, which at the time had little prospects for new premises.
“They didn’t have anywhere to go,” said Groom, who was president of the Legion at that time (he served 10 years in that capacity). “I told the mayor, we’ll look after the food bank.”
Not only did he offer up the Legion basement for the food bank’s operations rent-free, he helped create a structure that has made the charitable organization a mainstay of the building over the last dozen-plus years. And he volunteers to organize the food bank’s Christmas hamper drive, to boot.
Around this time the Legion was also facing serious challenges to its existence due to declining membership and dwindling finances. The partnership with Fleming’s company in building and operating the Alexander Mackie Lodge has helped bring the Legion out of the red and into a healthy situation where it can help local charities and school groups with funding and other help with projects.
Now approaching his 83rd birthday, Groom, a native of Verdun, Que. who served in the Canadian army from 1951 to 1975 and served three peacekeeping tours in Cyprus, has lived in Langford since he retired from the military.
A two-time WestShore Chamber of Commerce citizen of the year (2002, 2005), he was tickled when he discovered that his former commanding officer, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Herb Pitts, was officiating at the Legion award ceremony on Nov. 11 and presenting the medal.
Groom looked back on his career in public service with pride in the accomplishments he said could not have happened “without a good crew with me.”
“I had lots of help along the way from the mayor and council,” he said, and people like Clark, who passed away two years ago. “I’m proud of the park and (the Mackie), I really am. And getting the food bank so that it was still operating.”
Groom stays active helping the Mackie with banking duties through the week and can be found most Friday afternoons at the Legion lounge on Station Avenue, “swapping lies” with his buddies. Saturdays, however, are reserved for watching his beloved Montreal Canadiens hockey team or the Vancouver Canucks on TV.
Fleming called this community legend “a standup kind of guy that doesn’t take any guff,” she said.
“It’s not a matter of who’s right, it’s about what’s right with him. He’s very much a community oriented person and this award is very well-deserved.”