Building a foundation of support, Block by Block
It takes a few seconds for him to rise to his feet.
The small task takes effort, and it’s suggested he remain seated.
But he continues – slowly and shaking, at first – eventually greeting his visitor with a firm handshake, along with a slight smile.
The shaking ceases as he eases himself back into the rich brown leather armchair, a hot summer day peeking through the patio door behind him.
As coffee and tea are offered, a slight tremor begins in his left hand and grows until he is shaking anew.
It stops as suddenly as it began – but only until the next tremor takes over.
Henry Block has Parkinson’s disease.
The White Rock octogenarian and entrepreneur has been fighting a losing battle against the neurodegenerative disease for 12 years, as it slowly strips him of the future he had planned, the memories he was supposed to make and the time he had hoped to spend.
But, sitting in that leather chair, with son John and wife Laura beside him, Henry does not seem bitter, or sad, or angry.
In the midst of all the serious and emotional discussion on the effects of Parkinson’s, Henry jokes – more often than not at his wife’s expense – and every now there’s a hint of a mischievous twinkle in his eye that divulges the man behind the symptoms.
Mentally, he is the same charismatic man who helped build Block Bros., which eventually grew into one of the largest real estate firms in Canada.
He is the man who has attended the same church – Peace Portal Alliance – for decades.
He is a loving father, often giving business advice to John. A doting husband, he is a proud grandfather and adoring great-grandfather.
But his body betrays him.
Due to Parkinson’s, he does not get to read bedtime stories to the littlest ones in his extensive family. Even the most basic things – driving a car, eating a meal or speaking a sentence with ease – are refused to him.
But, sitting in that chair, with his loved ones around him, Henry says he does not want pity.
“At the end of the day, family is the most important thing. No question,” he says. “I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m too proud for that. I’m looking for contributions – not sympathy.”
The contributions he is referring to are to the Hike for Hank campaign Sept. 9, which ties into the Canada-wide Parkinson’s SuperWalk that same weekend.
Hank has pledged to match money raised for the Parkinson’s Society of B.C.
As of this interview, the fundraising campaign had raised nearly $60,000, and Laura has a feeling that Henry may have to dig a bit deeper into his pockets now that they have surpassed their goal of $50,000 raised.
In spite of the monumental effort it takes to speak, Henry doesn’t give up a chance to playfully poke at his wife’s generosity.
“At first she said, ‘let’s start with five (thousand),’ then 10, and now it’s 50 and it keeps growing,” he smiles.
“At this point, the hardest part about the whole thing will be giving up the cheque.”
The positive attitude is something Laura, John and the family have come to rely on since the shocking diagnosis.
“He’s always been the rock in the family and he still is,” Laura says. “He never complains. Throughout the whole process he has never complained or felt sorry for himself.”
Instead, Henry plans to spend his time promoting awareness for Parkinson’s and raising funds for programs and support for those who are already diagnosed, rather than research.
While the Blocks laud the work of those searching for a cure for Parkinson’s, their main concern is helping those who are already diagnosed cope with the illness.
“You have foundations, like the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and they are searching for a cure, which is fantastic. But what about people who are already diagnosed? What do you do for them?” John asks.
With the $100,000 the family plans to raise, they hope it can help put a significant dent in the $325,000 the Parkinson’s Foundation of B.C. requires to boost support services.
But Henry’s quest to raise awareness about Parkinson’s won’t end with the Hike for Hank campaign.
With plans to appear on radio shows and interviews for magazine articles, at 86, it seems he is set to embark on yet another journey.
And while the road is sure to be difficult, it’s one he is determined to finish, with his family at his side.
The Hike for Hank takes place Sept. 9, 9 a.m. at Bear Creek Park, 13750 88 Ave.
For more information, visit www.hikeforhank.com