By Heather Killen
At 95 (going on 96), Harold Coggins says one of his secrets to longevity is to just keep going.
The Middleton man has beat cancer twice and is determined to keep this winning streak going.
He missed last year’s Relay For Life only because he was undergoing radiation treatment at the Dixon Centre in Halifax. This year his spirits are high and he has his golf cart standing by, ready to take him on his victory lap around the track at Rotary Raceway Park on Friday night.
“I beat it once and then I beat it again, I’m the oldest fella walking around out there,” he says with a smile. “It gives me a boost just meeting everybody. There’s an awful lot of people out there with the same thing.”
People are one of the things that keep him going, he says. Whether it’s good neighbours always checking up on him, the caregivers who visit, or the many friends and family he stays in touch with, Coggins says these connections help keep his spirits afloat.
He mostly downplays his health concerns, but will admit the road to recovery isn’t an easy one on some days. And while he doesn’t back down from cancer, he’s seen its toll, as he’s lost two wives to the disease. Each year he remembers them with luminaries and says it gives him comfort to see the hundreds of little lights burning along the side of the track.
Retired for 34 years, he spent his career at sea first in the Navy and then as a chief engineer on the M.V. Abegweit, an ice-breaking ferry that ran out of Prince Edward Island. Retired in 1983, the boat was purchased by the Columbia Yacht Club, in Chicago.
Coggins retired around the same time as his favourite boat and relocated to Middleton, where he has lived ever since. Going to sea has been in his blood since his days going out with his father, he says, while he was growing up on Brier Island in Digby County.
Every spring he says he yearns to get back out on the waves. All winter he makes radio-controlled model boats in his workshop and thinks about what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste. That famous ghost ship has haunted people’s imaginations for nearly 150 years.
In December 1872, the ship was found floating, crewless about 600 miles off Gibraltar. The ship appeared to be pristine condition. But the fate of the crew and passengers has been a mystery. The month before, the ship set sail for Europe with a cargo of wines and liquors.
The official reports indicated everything to be in good order, except that the ship's paper and its chronometer were missing. The last entry into the captain's logs, on November 24, gave no indication of anything unusual taking place.
Every chance he gets, Coggins reads about the Mary Celeste. Now that he has a computer and the internet, a new window of research has opened up for him. Sometimes on his own, often with the help of friends he digs up new details about his favorite puzzle.
He still enjoys taking special trips with friends and family. A few years ago, he had a red carpet moment when he was invited to a gala event at the Columbia Yacht Club when he had the chance to see his old boat, now a clubhouse.
“You gotta keep going,” he says. “Live one day at a time, keep busy. If you sit down and think about it, it can be pretty hard.”