Why one Islander has been giving palliative care patients lobster for two decades

For 21 years, Ray Campbell has been giving lobsters to palliative care patients on P.E.I. for free.

'Their faces light up, they have tears in their eyes because they just can't believe it' 

Ray Campbell says he feels that giving lobsters to palliative care patients is 'just the right thing to do.' (Submitted by Ray Campbell)

In 1999, Ray Campbell dropped off his first delivery of lobsters for patients being treated at the palliative care unit in Charlottetown. 

It's been an annual tradition ever since. 

"It's just the right thing to do, I guess," said Campbell. 

Campbell said up until last year, he was a lobster fisherman operating out of Covehead, P.E.I. Every year he took about 10 market-sized lobsters out of his catch, cooked them and delivered them to the palliative patients. 

'Never missed a season'

"At the end of his fishing in the morning, he would get the lobster all cooked perfectly on little trays and would bring it in for Friday supper," said Dr. Mireille Lecours, provincial palliative care medical consultant for Health PEI. She's been involved with palliative care ever since Campbell started the tradition in 1999.

"Ray has been doing this for years, he's never missed a season," she said. 

Campbell has delivered lobsters every Friday during the lobster season on P.E.I.— so at least nine to 10 feeds a season, said Campbell. 

"If the season ended in the middle of week, I'd tie some over so that they'd get them the next  Friday like, so try to get as many feeds in the run of a season as I can," he said.

Those lobsters are taken by the chefs in palliative care, who take the meat out of the shell and serve them to the patients. 

'They just can't believe it'

Lecours said when patients know that Campbell will be delivering lobsters, there's a notable shift in mood among the patients. 

"It's a luxury and a special treat that they talk about all week," she said

"Their faces light up, they have tears in their eyes because they just can't believe it." 

Dr. Mireille Lecours, holding one of the dishes prepared for patients with Campbell's lobsters, says patients look forward to the lobster all week. (Submitted by Mireille Lecours)

Campbell said he started this tradition when he was cooking lobsters for his aunt in palliative care in 1997, and continued when his partner's aunt was in palliative care in 1998.

Since they both enjoyed the meal, Campbell figured the other patients might like it as well.

"I got in touch with palliative care and asked them if they'd be OK if we tried it," he said. "It's been going on ever since."

The first year live lobsters were provided was 1999. Since then he's cooked them and delivered them himself. 

"He never has looked for anything really. A thank you and the smile in the patient's face is all he wants," said Lecours.

"It really is something that makes a huge difference for patients and their families," she said.

'It's a good thing to do'

Campbell sold his lobster boat last year, and this year P.E.I.'s lobster season has been delayed because of COVID-19, but that didn't prevent Campbell from making his first delivery. 

He bought the lobsters from a retailer in Charlottetown and delivering them involved adhering to a number of physical distancing rules.

This week's lobster came from off-Island, but Campbell said when the lobster season does start on P.E.I. he'll be buying catch from local fishermen. 

Even though he has sold his boat, Campbell still made a point of delivering lobsters to the Provincial Palliative Care Centre. (Submitted by Ray Campbell)

As for how long he plans to keep delivering lobsters?

"One never knows how long one is going to be here. So as long as I'm healthy and that, I'll keep doing it," he said. 

"I guess it boils down to it's a good thing to do. It still makes me feel good and it's still appreciated." 

More from CBC P.E.I. 


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