Many of us remember one special teacher who encouraged us to try something hard, or wore crazy socks to make the class laugh, or stayed late to coach a sports team. Years later, we look back and realize how our confidence and life decisions were influenced by that person.
For many, Don Gainer was that special teacher, and his death stole opportunities from thousands of students who might have benefited from his influence. Sitting at his widow's dining room table, eleven years after he and his young son Bryan were killed by a drunk driver in Ontario, I'm flipping through memory books that Don's students made for his wife, Eva Gainer. The book is dedicated to "a man who affected the whole community around him."
Student after student mentions his silly suspenders. One student wrote, "Even when you are down to nothing, don't give up. That's what Mr. Gainer taught me."
All these years later, Eva Gainer never has given up. The Mothers Against Drunk Drivers volunteer moved to West Kelowna a year ago and has joined the new Central Okanagan Chapter of MADD. Gainer slides the red ribbon, which stands for making safe choices about driving, through her fingers as she shares her story.
"I actually got one of these red ribbons a year or so before it happened," says Gainer. "I thought it was a good idea. I would never have imagined it would have impacted me so much."
The red ribbon is a symbol of a person's commitment to drive safe and sober during the holiday season and throughout the year. It also serves as a reminder to other motorists to drive sober.
Eva Gainer was critically injured in the accident that killed her husband and son. She went through years of therapy to heal, and still suffers physical effects. Her two children, who were teenagers at the time, were not in the vehicle at the time of the accident. They had to cope with the grief of suddenly losing a father and baby brother, and their mom’s lengthy recovery.
Gainer recently re-married, and the retired teacher is embracing her second chance for happiness. She gives back by volunteering for the Central Okanagan Hospice Association, donating blood as often as she can, and advocating through Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She wants her new community to plan carefully for a safe ride home this holiday season.
"By not drinking and driving, the life you may be saving might be your own or that of a family member or friend. How terrible would you feel to know you had caused someone's death or permanent injury?"
She doesn’t miss a beat when I ask her how old her youngest would be today.
"Bryan would be twenty-three," she says.
One other fact of her story sends a chill right through me. The driver who killed Don and Bryan Gainer had already been arrested and charged for impaired driving a mere two days earlier. Not everyone learns from past mistakes, but Eva Gainer hopes that most people will make the right choice. Change starts here, when we plan for a safe ride home.
For more information about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) visit madd.ca.
To find out how you can be part of change in your community, visit unitedwaycso.com.
United Way wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season. Please don't drink and drive. Call a cab, use a car service, arrange for a designated driver or stay overnight.