Unsung Hero: Introducing the Red Cross’s ‘Mr Fix It’
Bermuda may be a small island but it is full of unsung heroes — inspirational residents who are making a real difference in their communities and improving the lives of others, without expecting any recognition or praise. In our regular feature, we celebrate the incredible achievements of the ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things.
Harry McHarg has always been good at fixing things.
For almost two decades, the 82-year-old retired manager of electronics and appliances has been helping to maintain the healthcare equipment rented out by a local charity. The Pembroke resident started volunteering at the Bermuda Red Cross equipment rental service 18 years ago.
He now supervises the servicing and repair of the equipment and delivers it to people's homes, where he helps to set it up.
“It does serve a very good need here,” Mr McHarg said, adding that people with temporary or permanent disabilities, or those wishing to accommodate guests with certain needs, can rent the equipment instead of buying it new. Mr McHarg explained that the items, which include wheelchairs, walking aids, bathtub and shower aids, adjustable and foldable beds, mattresses, bedpans, stools, car seats, high chairs, commodes, raised toilet seats and hydraulic hoists, can be rented out short-term or indefinitely.
“Of course we have to provide servicing for that equipment because they go out for two or three months and come back and they need repairs,” he said.
Mr McHarg cleans, repairs and services the equipment at the purpose-built Clipper Building, which has a cleaning station and a small workshop, on Berry Hill Road.
He spends two or three days a week at the charity and is assisted by two other volunteers. On Saturdays, two youths help out through the Duke of Edinburgh International Award programme.
Mr McHarg is also responsible for training new volunteers.
Mr McHarg started volunteering after he retired from his job at Pearman Watlington Co and someone suggested that he talk to Fred Clipper, a mainstay of the Red Cross.
Mr Clipper, a war veteran and father-of-four, devoted so much of his time to the Red Cross that the equipment rental service building was named after him.
But when Mr McHarg started volunteering the service was still located in the old King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
“Fred must have been in his nineties when I contacted him,” Mr McHarg said. “Back then we had the bottom floor at the hospital which was a bit confining and there were no windows.”
In 2002 the service relocated to the Clipper Building and after Mr Clipper retired Mr McHarg continued doing the work alone.
“We had lots of equipment, but it sat around until I could get around to it,” Mr McHarg explained.
“Now we have more equipment available than at any time — we are just about getting to the stage where we need more people to service the equipment when it comes back.”
About 50 per cent of the service's equipment is stored over two floors in the Clipper Building — the rest is out on loan.
“About three months ago we had nothing — it can explode one week, and the next week we have nothing,” Mr McHarg said.
He explained that any surplus equipment is shipped off to those who need it most and added that the difficulty is finding equipment for smaller children.
But the rented equipment is used “until we can't repair it,” Mr McHarg said.
Wheelchairs can see more than 35 years of use — but they also need repairing a lot because they are so popular.
Mr McHarg added that showing someone how to use the equipment is the most rewarding thing, because “they look at this thing and they haven't got a clue how it works, even though it's got wheels and is all folded up — I show them how to use it, how to adjust it and the gratitude is there.”
And although all help is greatly appreciated, Mr McHarg said the work might not suit everyone.
“They've got to have a desire to do it because you can go and get someone to volunteer down here and they'll show up for two weeks, they get bored and you don't see them again — you've got to want to do it.”
His love of fixing things, for Mr McHarg, is “one reason I think I fit in here very nicely.”
• For more information or to volunteer call 236-8253 or visit www.bermudaredcross.com.
• Do you know an Unsung Hero? Call Lisa on 278-0137 or e-mail LSimpson@royalgazette.com