December 8, 1996

Stranger wheels out gift for family

Alan Hustak, The Gazette (Montreal)

Every so often, there is a chance encounter that lifts the human spirit.

Just ask Tom Boyce.

An idle conversation at Dorval airport three weeks ago left the Boyce family, of Springhill, N.S., with a brand-new van to carry their 5-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy.

Boyce, a carpenter, was at the airport on Nov. 13 with his daughter, Katelyn, waiting for a shuttle to take them to the Shriners Hospital. The girl had a double hip operation in February and must be flown to Montreal every six weeks for a checkup. Boyce and his wife, Elizabeth, take turns accompanying her on the 1,200-kilometre trip.

"I was just sitting there in the arrivals area with Katelyn waiting for another patient from Halifax to arrive, and this older guy looked over and struck up a conversation," Boyce said.

"He asked different things about my daughter. Before we left he wrote his name on a piece of paper and told me, 'If there's anything I can do for you just ask.'

"Half joking, I said, 'I sure could use a van. I need a mini-van.' "

Yesterday, Boyce and his wife were flown to Montreal and handed the keys to a bright red 1997 GMC Safari. It had been customized to accommodate a wheelchair.

"I kind of don't believe this kind of thing," Elizabeth Boyce said. "Me, I'm skeptical. This kind of thing never happens. I still don't believe it."

The van is a gift from entrepreneur Keith Allison, who delivered it to them at the airport. Allison is president of Glory Group of Companies Corp., and moved to Montreal from Vancouver three months ago.

He said he went to the airport three weeks ago to meet a client who never arrived. That's when he spotted a little girl in a wheelchair, and "decided to give her a break."

He was intrigued by the 5-year-old who likes Barney on TV, and has a crush on hockey player Valeri Bure.

Allison tracked the family down by telephone in Springhill.

Initially, Elizabeth Boyce was dubious about the stranger. "I knew people at home who work in the police station, so I had this guy checked out," she said. "I didn't know what to think. When he called, my first reaction was 'yeah, right! You don't know me, I don't know you and you're going to give me a van!' "

Having the vehicle means the Boyces can avoid cumbersome travel arrangements each time Katelyn comes to Montreal. Before, she was taken by ambulance to Moncton to catch a flight.

Now she'll be able to cruise in comfort with her father or mother straight to Montreal.

Allison said it is not the first time he has given gifts to strangers.

In a telephone interview, he told The Gazette his selective philanthropy is motivated by faith.

"In 1989, I went bankrupt. I lost $10 million." he said. "One day I was driving a Cadillac; the next day I was washing them. I got down on my knees and prayed if He put me back up again, I'd do what I could. I knew I'd come back, and I have.

"People ask me if I'm a born-again Christian? No. I've always been a Christian. Now, I just do what He tells me to do - if it's in my budget."

Allison said there is nothing unusual about people helping people.

"There are a lot of good people out there. When I was on the street I met a lot of fine people. You just don't hear about all their incredible stories."

From the Montreal Gazette, December 8, 1996

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