Ed Battcock, the man who started a "Cans for Kids" charity in his Happy Valley-Goose Bay garage, died Saturday morning. He was 86.

I awoke Saturday to the sad news from his family.

Ed Battcock — the inspiring, jovial spirit who transformed old bottles into money, and rough lives for the better — has died. He was a special man to all who knew him, myself included.

"Thank you for everything you done for Pop," came a note from one of his granddaughters just hours after he died. "You helped him live his dream." 

She was referring to a trilogy of TV stories I did for CBC that may have helped his charity work grow.

Truth is, Battcock made his own dream come true.

He poured his final years into changing lives — ultimately helping 139 children worldwide receive cleft-lip surgery, and another seven children in Africa get treatment for leprosy.

He did all this by recycling drink bottles to collect nickels and dimes.

'If the man above lets me'

When I first met Battcock, he was in his 84th year of life and the first year of his extraordinary charity project.

Ed Battcock fundraising recycling for charities

Ed Battcock refused to let a cancer diagnosis slow him down. (CBC)

His goal then was to help about 20 kids receive cleft-lip surgery by donating funds to a charity called Smile Train.

"If the man above lets me," Battcock would say with a chuckle. "I have to make a deal with him first."

He already had the lung condition that, coupled with cancer, would take his life.

For more than a year, Battcock spent nearly every day in his garage.

Radio up, plastic gloves on, sorting through a seemingly endless supply of garbage bags filled with cans and bottles.

On the walls: pictures of the kids he'd helped.

That "workroom" became notorious in Goose Bay. Residents began bringing him more and more bags. Quickly, his grandkids created a "Cans for Kids" logo. They printed it onto a hat, T-shirt, and decals for his compact SUV.

When the "Cans for Kids"-mobile wasn't parked out front, you knew he'd be out collecting more bags, delivering his work to the Recycling Depot, and stopping to laugh and talk along the way.

Battcock's wheels, his garage and — mainly — his exuberance for life were all fixtures, of sorts, in Goose Bay. 

Ripple effect

I made three TV stories with Battcock.

The first one featured his extraordinary routine. And like his charity, the momentum of one project grew into another.

About 10 months after the first piece aired, a teacher from Beachy Cove Elementary in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, reached out to me in Goose Bay. She and her students wanted to thank Battcock for the inspiration he'd been in their classroom. The kids had seen him on TV and formed their own "Cans for Kids" recycling project.

I suggested they thank him by video.

With the help of his family, eager to see his reaction, we threw a sort of video-viewing surprise party. A couple dozen Battcocks clamoured into the living room to watch their "Pop" react to the video of the kids' message. This became TV story #2.

You can see the emotional reaction in this video.

Cans for kids2:59

Then, about five months later, Smile Train — the charity he gave the funds to — reached out. They, too, wanted to thank him.

By that point, Battcock had helped more than 100 of their kids around the world receive cleft-lip surgeries.

The group sent photos and videos of Mexican children and their parents grinning and calling out to the camera: "Gracias Señor Battcock!"

He loved seeing the smiles he helped create.

Life wasn't always so bright 

Battcock had a dark past with wine bottles and beer cans.

Ed Battcock

Ed Battcock raised money so dozens of children in developing countries could obtain cleft-lip surgeries. (CBC)

An alcoholic, he drank well into his 30s. Then — in his habit of recycling, transforming and repurposing — he turned his life around.

Battcock spent his last 49 years sober. 

Alcoholics Anonymous, service to others, and a mantra of what his kids call "rigorous honesty" helped his recovery.

In some circles he became known as Labrador's "godfather of A.A." He initiated meetings across the coast and helped countless Labradorians cope with their addictions.

"How's your family?" Battcock would ask me at each visit, somehow remembering that I have alcoholics in my family, too.

"Tell them to take it one-day-at-a-time," he'd say with a smile.

That generosity was never lost on me, nor the beautiful irony that he would turn life's empties into something positive.

Final days 

Despite his cancer, Battcock set a new goal about a year and a half ago: to help at least 100 kids in Africa who are battling leprosy.

"It's me and the boy now upstairs," he'd told me with his usual point upward. "If He wants to leave me, let me live, 'til I gets 100 in Africa I'd be pleased. But if I can't, well then …"

Not long after, his health forced him to stop.

Battcock died at home Saturday, with the love of his wife, their 10 kids, 22 grandkids and 16 great-grandkids nearby.

They tell me his "Cans for Kids" raised a whopping $46,000 in nickels and dimes, which helped seven kids with leprosy and 139 kids receive cleft-lip surgery.

But quantifying how many people Battcock helped in his life is nearly impossible.

A funeral for Edward Battcock was held Tuesday afternoon at the Roman Catholic Church in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The family welcomes donations to the local Canadian Cancer Society.