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B.C. veteran John Hillman dies at 105, leaves huge charity footprint

The 105-year-old hit headlines for his philanthropic ways, raising funds for Save the Children by walking laps of his Oak Bay courtyard

A man who walked laps of his Oak Bay courtyard to raise funds for global charity Save the Children leaves behind a near half-million-dollar legacy – so far.

John Hillman, 105, died peacefully early Monday (July 8).

Inspired by the late Capt. Tom Moore in England who did 100 laps of his garden and raised nearly $150,000 for charity, Hillman started fundraising for Save the Children in 2020 at the age of 101. That year he walked 101 laps – over 10 consecutive days – of the courtyard at his Carlton House of Oak Bay home.

For four consecutive years, the centenarian spent a few days in the spotlight taking his walker outdoors and doing laps to fanfare to raise funds. Hillman would amiably amble the first lap or two with a politician, police officer or other dignitary at his side, then take off at a more brisk pace (for someone in their 100s).

He'd raise a glass at the end, and toast his fans, before heading inside for rest.

Though he had moved to Veterans Memorial Lodge in Saanich, this March to celebrate his 105th birthday, Hillman finished one last lap at Carlton House – a ceremonial end of an era.

"We are all so grateful to have known John, and to have called him our friend. He had an incredible life, in service of others, and being able to help him with that was truly the honour of a lifetime," said Jacqueline Prewett on behalf of Carlton House. "He will be missed by so many people, but we know that his legacy will live on through the lives he touched and the positive change he brought into the world." 

Hillman left the online donation platform open at bit.ly/johnhillman104 and as of July 9 it sat at nearly $469,000.

A British veteran of the Second World War, Hillman became a Canadian citizen with an online ceremony in 2022.

Hillman joined the Royal Air Force in 1937 at the age of 17.

“I joined the air force because there were no jobs for youngsters coming out of school in 1937,” he told the Oak Bay News in 2022.

After failing to fulfill pilot requirements, they put him in the tail, and Hillman became a wireless operator.

He recalls being posted to France in August 1939.

“We lost half the squadron when the Germans broke through,” he said. With their aircraft rendered unusable, he and 60 others were left to make their way back to England as best they could.

Awarded four Second World War medals, Hillman served in the RAF until 1949 and saw action in France, Britain, Africa and Italy. He served in Burma from 1944 until Japan officially surrendered the next year.

“I had an angel on each shoulder looking after me,” Hillman said. “I was shot at and bombed for the whole of my service and I never got a scratch.”

John and Irene Hillman were married on Dec. 27, 1941. Irene died in 2021 at the age of 100.