Hub Thiel reflects on Mary’s life, his luck, and their love
Mary Simmons Walker-Thiel was born in Woodstock in 1954. The Zurich resident lost two children in infancy, and her first husband Rick Walker and their son Evan were killed in a car crash in 1989. Mary later married Hub Thiel, soon after his first wife – also named Mary – died, forming a family with two children each, and adding two more together. Mary Walker-Thiel died February 19 in a head-on crash with a transport truck on Thames Road east of Exeter. Hub was driving their 15-passenger van, and survived the crash.
As told to Casey Lessard
Hub Thiel: I’d hate to be alive if I didn’t know she was in heaven. Mary had a heart of gold. I don’t know why she ever fell for a guy like me. I guess I talked her ear off and got lucky as heck. Only a fool wouldn’t have grabbed her hard and hung on.
Mary was working at Merrymount Children’s Home in London when her roommate met a man from Zurich, and through them she met Rick Walker. I worked with Rick’s mother at General Coach, so I knew Mary a long time before I met her. I would see her at church, and we became friends. My wife and her were friends, too. Rick and Evan and my first cousin’s son Samuel Thiel were killed on the May long weekend in 1989. It just totally rocked this community. He was a young guy with two little kids in the car, and Rick and Evan were killed instantly. Samuel lived for a few days until after his mother returned from a trip to Arizona. Mary lived alone with her girls in Centralia until 1995. When my wife died that year, she was there and was a strong support. She was just this angel who would help everybody and anybody. I needed help and she had gone through things, so she was just like one of the thousand people who were helping. We were both involved in youth council at church. We spent time planning a trip and a while after we returned we got closer. It was easy being together. It just seemed like it was meant to be. Family was the number one thing. Mary would drop anything for the kids. That’s the way she was. It wasn’t just grandkids; it didn’t matter who it was. She would be there. She was always late. But that’s because she took the time. Then she’d realize she was supposed to be somewhere else and she was talking as she’s driving out the laneway. That was her heart.
We had a 15-passenger van, and we didn’t need a 15-passenger van here anymore than a hole in the head; the gas consumption’s kind of stupid. But I’d just drive it to work, which is just a couple of clicks. The price of the van was good and I’m really cheap. Mary liked the van because she could pile people in. If you needed a ride somewhere, Mary would take you. If your kid needed a ride somewhere, Mary would take you. It was a perfect vehicle for her. She was a bus driver and I’m a truck driver, so we could both handle the big vehicle. It was important to her to be able to take as many people anywhere they needed to go. That was her heart. Mary loved shopping. She’d take a couple women with her and go to Costco, filling the van up. She’d take the kids and push them in the carts, and love them right up. She had to go anyway, so why not take the van and take them, too?
The last day
Mary’s daughter Sarah is a world traveler. She’s a nurse and has been to Europe several times and she did a term in Africa. When she was in Europe, she met a group from Australia who said, Come to Australia. Sarah set up a trip for four months to go to Australia and we were taking Sarah to Toronto airport. We went around by grandma Simmons’, we had a wonderful visit with Mary’s mother and took Sarah to the airport. We had a wonderful time saying goodbye to her, joking around and it was nice. On the way home, we stopped at Milton and had a coffee. After leaving Milton, we had one of the nicest drives we ever had. Mary had to come home to be at the church council meeting and I had to come home to take the kids to figure skating. We were late, but the road was snow-covered, so I wasn’t going very fast. All of a sudden, as we approached Exeter, the van veered over the centre line and into the opposite lane. The last word I said to Mary was no, and the last word said to me was Hub. I don’t remember the impact at all. I woke up spitting this crap out from my mouth, which was from the airbag. I turned to my right where Mary should have been sitting, and the wheel of the truck was within three inches of my right shoulder. Mary’s body was driven right back behind the seat behind me. When I crawled out of the van, there was an Exeter firefighter there right away, and other people. The ambulance came and a police officer told me Mary had passed away. I was devastated. Completely devastated. I was driving the van and it’s very hard on a guy because I thought, I should have maybe been able to do something. I’m not beating myself up. It’s not going to bring her back. Being a truck driver, I know he had no chance of avoiding us. If we only had 10 or 20 seconds more either way, I could have been in the ditch in front of him or behind him.
Lean on me
The community support has been so unreal. I’ve never seen so many flowers in my life. I have dishes here I’m not even sure who owns them. We have to go on. If the things like Heart-to-Heart and the Zurich Bible School, which were both very important to her, keep going, that’s going to be her legacy more than anything. We live in the best community in the world and it’s because of people like Mary. Someone’s got to help carry on. All six of my kids are level-headed people. We mourn at the times we mourn, but we are happy at the happy times. We have a good handle on mourning. People think we’re steady as a rock. You can be when you have faith and you have a good handle on what is going on. I have to be strong for my kids, but I also have to be strong for the handicapped kids she worked with. She never saw their handicap; she always saw their potential. She made me, Katherine and Matthew see the same thing. It was a joy to have them in our house, and they brought a lot of love in. I’m calling some of them to encourage them to come visit because it’s important for us to continue on together. The most important thing was her faith in God. Right now, she’s in heaven, cooking, rocking Evan, she’s got my little son who was five weeks old when he died, and two children who were stillborn. Her father’s there playing harmonica and Mary’s doing a little dance. She’s taking care of everybody and having a good time. Going to heaven’s going to be easier because we know she’s there.