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Richmond's oldest philanthropic duo walking to fundraise for famine relief

Orval Chapman and Carol Rennie bonded over their passion for giving when they met 20 years ago.
Orval Chapman and Carol Rennie's philanthropic friendship started two decades ago. Vikki Hui photo

A dynamic duo of senior philanthropists who have been friends for more than two decades will be walking to fundraise for Oxfam Canada next week in Richmond.

Carol Rennie, a retired educator in her late 70s, first met Orval Chapman about 20 years ago when she went to check out local volunteer opportunities.

Chapman, a nonagenarian and retired teacher, founded the Richmond Oxfam Committee 52 years ago and was looking for more volunteers to join his team.

“Orval followed up with me and invited me to a meeting, and, well, I guess the rest is history,” recalled Rennie.

Visceral images of the Nigerian civil war plastered all over newspapers during the late 1960s had left an impression on both Chapman and Rennie and eventually brought them together on a philanthropic journey.

“I’ll never forget those pictures of… those starving children from Biafra,” said Rennie.

In fact, Chapman was inspired to start the Richmond chapter of Oxfam when he met a representative while attending a food drive to be airdropped to areas in need.

“I’m a Christian. We’re supposed to love our neighbour,” said Chapman. His reluctance to see people suffer has been the main motivation for him throughout the years.

While Rennie doesn’t consider herself to be a believer, she shares the same conviction that one should help people who are less fortunate.

The committee has remained small but mighty since its first meeting at the Richmond Presbyterian Church five decades ago.

Nowadays, Chapman and Rennie are the two main forces behind all fundraising activities. They have managed to raise more than $57,000 over the years, including more than $10,000 from last year’s walkathon.

Mutual respect secret to a long-term friendship

Chapman and Rennie have dedicated themselves to helping many international causes over the years with initiatives such as walkathons, mail collection, musical evenings and dinners. They also never hesitated to pitch in for local causes.

“Orval and I are both interested in social justice issues overall,” Rennie told the Richmond News, adding the two have spoken against the Site C dam as well as in support of feminist issues.

One of their most vivid memories is participating in the Salmon Festival parade with children dressed up as vegetables to raise awareness about food insecurity.

The two have had their fair share of conflict, such as a disagreement over whether they should be spending money on printing posters, as well as sometimes spurred on by their “polar-opposite” personalities. However, their mutual admiration for each other has been integral to the long-standing partnership.

“Orval is my idol,” Rennie told an Oxfam representative when talking about their partnership.

Despite Chapman’s soft-spoken nature, said Rennie, he takes it upon himself to speak to people about his causes.

“There are so many people that are impressed by the way that Orval lives his life because his life is devoted to fundraising for charity. He does not spend much time for himself, he does not spend much money on himself,” she explained.

“Women are attracted to Orval because of his calm and giving ways. He has a lot of female friends, and, you know, some of them are amongst his best givers.”

Chapman’s perseverance has also inspired Rennie. He had fallen ill after surviving a serious accident, but he never gave up on his philanthropic pursuits.

“I wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to resume the same level of activities that we did before. And I guess in a way, he’s just not quite (at) the same level, but he’s certainly persevered,” said Rennie.

As for Rennie, Chapman also speaks highly of her.

“Carol’s easy to get along with. We might not agree on everything, but she’s been so helpful,” he said, adding Rennie has been integral in coming up with fundraising ideas and incorporating technology into their work.

Until recently, Chapman would write donation appeal letters by hand and get them photocopied near his house. Now, Rennie helps him type out the letters, which helps reduce the physical and financial pressure on him.

“You were saying how much you liked me,” said Rennie, when Chapman lost his train of thought, to which Chapman said, “Very much!”

Hoping to do the same next year

The duo will be embarking on the annual Richmond walkathon on Saturday, June 17 to support Oxfam Canada’s hunger and famine fund. The walkathon started around 2009 and a virtual component was added during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, their goal is to raise $15,000.

The biggest challenge in fundraising, said Chapman, is finding people willing to help. The increase in charitable organizations as well as the advent of scammers has made giving all the more difficult.

But the duo’s community has continued to show unwavering support over the years. Of the 90 letters Chapman sent out for last year’s walkathon, two-thirds responded with donations.

“(Chapman’s) donors, his friends and his family are always exceedingly generous,” said Rennie.

When asked what their charitable plans are after the walkathon, Chapman said he hopes to do the same thing next year.

As for Rennie, her goal is to “live through the next year,” she said, much to Chapman’s amusement.

Anyone wishing to join Chapman and Rennie on the walkathon by walking, riding or running can contact Chapman at 604-278-2543.

To donate, visit the Richmond walkathon page on Oxfam Canada’s website.