After 30 years in the meat department at the Trousdale’s Foodland store in Sydenham, Laurie Ross is hanging up his meat cleaver on November 18th.
Laurie had not intended to retire any time soon.
“I had figured I would be working at least another dozen or so years,” Laurie said, when interviewed in the store lunch room last week during his break, “but everything changed with the diagnosis.”
That diagnosis came two years ago. Laurie had been feeling some weakness in his left hand and wrist, and didn’t know what was causing it. He has always been very active in sports, and is also a gym rat, going to Elements Fitness in Sydenham between 3 and 5 days a week to work out. Even though he cut meat with his right hand, the weakness was starting to get in the way at the gym and on the field.
“A friend mine at the gym suggested that I check it out because it could indicate more serious problems, so I went to the doctor. The doctor said it was motor neuron disease. I think that was because he knew I didn’t want me to hear it was ALS right away, but that is what it is, and that is what we have been dealing with.”
ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is the most common type of motor neuron disease. It is also sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the baseball player who had been known as the “Iron Horse” because he set a record playing 2,130 consecutive baseball games without missing a single one due to injury, before developing symptoms.
There is no cure for ALS, and no exact cause has been determined either, and the prognosis for those who have it is dire. Few live more than 5 years after symptoms develop, although some do live more than 10 years.
“Over the last two years we have learned to live day by day, and while it is hard for Laurie to stop working, it is time” said Andrea (Andy) Ross, Laurie’s wife of 30 years, and the mother of their two daughters, Megan and Kelsey. Andrea is the store manager at one of the Kingston Beer Store locations and Megan and Kelsey also work in Kingston.
Laurie’s departure will be keenly felt at the Foodland store.
In 1988, Laurie was working at Bennett’s in East Kingston as a meat cutter when he was offered a position at the new Trousdale’s grocery store in Sydenham, which had been open for a few months at that time.
“It was a chance to work close to home, and I took it and have never regretted it,” he said.
It was also not the first time he had worked for the Trousdale family, having worked when he was younger at Trousdale’s General Store for before he went on to become a licensed butcher.
When he arrived at the new store, it was like coming home, and one of the people who was already there was Sherri Horton, who he had worked with at the General Store years earlier.
“I always tell that I’ve been here longer,” said Sherri, who came to the store when it opened in March of 1988 “because he didn’t get here until November of ‘88”.
To say Sherri, who is the Deli manager at the store, will miss her friend Laurie, is an under-statement.
“He’s been here every day, for all these years, quietly serving customers whenever they needed something special. He’s been there for everyone, staff and customers alike. I don’t think he ever thought of himself as someone who would need help from others, he’s always been the one helping. I’ll miss his very dry sense of humour, but mostly not having him around the store everyday will be a change for me, for all of us. We’re going to see him, of course, this is a small town and we all live in the same community, but it will be different in the store,” she said.
“One of the good things about working in Sydenham, where our daughters went to High School, and where we went to High School also, is that he never missed any of their competitions when they were students, and got to play a lot of sports as well,” said Andrea Ross.
Laurie played touch football in the Kingston League for many years, and played rugby and what they now call Y-ball at the Kingston Y (they sued to call it Murder Ball). In addition to that he always worked out.
“That’s one of the strange things. I was in better shape than I had been in years when this all started,” he said.
Typical of the commitment of the local community, Laurie’s diagnosis has made a difference for the Kingston chapter of the ALS Society. At the annual Walks for ALS a large contingent from Sydenham, wearing matching t-shirts, is now a regular feature.
After the 18th of November (he will keep working until then so the current meat manager, and avid hunter, can get his two weeks in the bush) Laurie will be taking it easy at home, with the support of his family, and his Trousdale family as well.
“We’re not going to leave him be,” said Sherri Horton. “We know where he lives, and if he needs anything, we will make sure to get it to him.”
On Friday, November 16, customers and friends will have an opportunity to mark the end of Laurie’s time at Trousdale’s. There is a drop-in scheduled from 11am-3pm and there will be cake for everyone who stops by, as well as an opportunity to visit, and reminisce.