Life is truly what it’s all about

Published 12:30 pm Saturday, June 14, 2014

Jeannette Everett, a survivor, takes a picture of Donna Lee Withers’ Luminaria. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Jeannette Everett, a survivor, takes a picture of Donna Lee Withers’ Luminaria. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Cain Madden/Managing Editor and Frank Davis/Contributing Writer and

COURTLAND—Eight years ago Relay For Life took on an entirely different meaning for Ernest Claud Jr.

In 2006, Claud was diagnosed with cancer, and from then on out aspects of life changed.

“It was not the same after that,” Claud said of Relay. “It was more meaningful. I realized first hand what the contributions that research had made when I had my surgery. I realized how much had changed, and how much needed to change.”

He’d been involved before that, though, as the Team Captain of the Pleasant Plain Baptist Church team some 12 years ago.

“Chester Burgess, one of the founders of the Franklin-Southampton Relay, had called me up and talked to me about how important it was,” he said. “He convinced me, and I’ve been participating ever since.

“I look forward to continuing to participate and support for as long as I can. I want to thank all of the volunteers and teams that make this event what it is.”

As far as the event itself on Saturday, co-chairwoman Billie Turner said it went really well.

“We have had a good turnout all day,” she said. “The weather has been wonderful, and I think that’s helped us in getting a steady stream of people in the community and on the teams come out and support this.”

Turner was getting ready to start work on the Luminaria Ceremony — where the Relay team and all of the supporters would paint the Southampton High School track in a warm golden glow, coming from candles inside paper bags. Each had the name of a survivor or someone who lost their battle with cancer on it. There were more than 1,000 this year.

“We are getting ready to focus on why we are here,” Turner said. “We are about to honor the names of the loved ones that we have lost, as well as the names of the loved ones who continue to fight. It really brings it all together.”

Louise Harrup, who herself is a 10-year survivor, along with and her husband John Robert, her caregiver, had come back specifically for the “beautiful ceremony.”

“It’s very, very inspiring. So many friends and family members have been through it,” she said about the battle with cancer.

For John Robert Harrup, the reason for Relay is simple.

“It’s about saving lives,” he said. “I hope and pray that the efforts we are going through will make it easier for someone.”

Earlier in the day, the event had been about fun as well as reflection, as the theme had been Cancer Fighting Super Heroes and many children were dressed as favorites such as Batman.

All 18 teams had also set up tents that in some way reflected the theme. The Pleasant Plain Baptist Church Cruisers for Life were well encamped with tents, chairs, food and other amenities necessary to spend the day. Special in the tent was a picture of their super hero, Yvonne A. Evans, a former member of their group who died from cancer on June 4, 2013.

The Sojourners of Southampton County displayed a table with pictures of five of their super heroes.

They were Linda Drake, Patsy Tomlin, Raymond Buck, Joyce Wynn and Tap Joyner. Joe Drake, a member of the group, stated that he alone has raised more than $6,000 in the past three years for his team by making and selling homemade wood items.

Throughout the day, members of the teams walked the track in rotating turns to satisfy their lap requirements for fundraising. The committee also had several fun, family-friendly activities at different times during the daylong event. Line dancing, zumba and a special super heroes contest for youth were only a few of the many activities of the day.

At the end of the day, Relay is a special event to everyone, said volunteer David Joyner, whose wife is a survivor.

“It’s a time to reflect,” he said. “Cancer doesn’t have any dividers. It affects all people, young and old.

There’s no one who has not been affected in some way, be it themselves, a relative or a friend. It’s a common fight we all share. I just hope I live long enough to see a cure.”