A Calgary Transit driver who passed away as a result of COVID-19 complications is being remembered a kind man who left a lasting impact on his passengers.
John Othen was 73 years old when he died on Jan. 14. He had been driving for Calgary Transit for 45 years.
His daughter said that Othen loved his job as a Calgary Transit driver and the people who rode his bus loved him back.
“He had passengers who would come on and specifically pick the front seat so they could chat,” Raye-lynn Graham said.
“His passengers gave him presents because he meant that much to them. He made everybody’s day special.”
At 73 years old, Othen was still the driver whose cheer made people happy to be going to work.
“He had passengers that would schedule their trips so they were on his bus,” said Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583.
But in November, both Othen and his wife Lavone tested positive for COVID-19.
Graham said her mom had less severe symptoms but her dad spent over a month on a ventilator at the Foothills Medical Centre.
Othen recovered enough to go home just before Christmas but made it clear to his wife he didn’t want to go through that again.
“He said: ‘I don’t want to be tubed again. I don’t want to be on life-support. I don’t want any of this if this is going to happen again.’ For my mom, that hurt. She said: ‘I can respect your wishes.’ They were married for over 42 years,” Graham said.
On Jan. 14, Othen was rushed to the hospital, which came as surprise to his daughter.
“We all thought he was out of the woods. We thought he beat it,” Graham said.
Othen died later that day due to complications from COVID-19. Graham said she was grateful that her dad didn’t die alone.
“I was very happy and thankful that my sister, myself and my mom were able to be by his side, not all at once. We were able to be in PPE gear and I was there by his bedside when he passed.”
The head of Calgary’s transit union says members are offering to help Othen’s family in any way they can. A gofundme account has been set up by a family friend.
“People have been reaching out like crazy,” union president Mike Mahar said.
“Probably unprecedented for somebody that we’ve lost. Virtually everybody wanting to help.”
While it hasn’t been confirmed where Othen contracted the virus, COVID-19 remains a worry for drivers.
“It is a major fear and it has been since last March,” Mahar said.
Graham said her mom is recovered now and hopes her parents’ experience with COVID-19 will remind people of the devastating effects the virus continues to have on families.
“We didn’t come over. We didn’t visit. We kept our distance and we had the kids wave from the car. We did what we were supposed to do and it still happened.”
Graham now wants her young children to remember the thoughtful and cheery grandpa they hardly got to know.
“My dad was a very kind-hearted man,” Graham said. “He always talked about his accomplishments — which were us.”