While it doesn’t make it easier for those who knew him, Wayne Whitechurch died Monday doing what he loved to do.
Whitechurch, also known as ‘Sampson’, was responding to an accident on Highway 11, just north of the 9th Line.
As one of the region’s tow truck drivers and the owner of Whitechurch Towing and Recovery, he had responded to countless calls for service over the last 45 years.
According to Sharron Beaulieu, his partner of over 40 years, the call that morning came around 6:30 a.m.; it was one of three that busy night and may have been too much for the 71-year-old.
“The night before, he had gone on a call at 11 p.m. and then there was another around 3 a.m. and of course, this last one at around 6:30 a.m. It may have just been too much for his heart,” said Beaulieu.
“When you get the call to go, you have about 20 minutes to respond to get the work. He loved the towing business but it certainly is hard.”
Beaulieu said it hasn’t been confirmed that Whitechurch suffered a heart attack, but she was told that “his heart just stopped.”
Beaulieu said her son got a call from a neighbour alerting them that a tow truck driver had an emergency and to look into it.
“My son asked me where Sampson was and I told him. He told me I should probably call him, but I didn’t get an answer," she recalled. "I drove to the scene of the accident on Highway 11 and I saw Sampson’s truck in the slow lane, it wasn’t even off to the side.
"I heard that he just crumpled up against the side of the truck. They figured he was gone before he hit the ground, so the thought is he felt nothing, which is a little comforting," she said.
Beaulieu said she was very thankful for the police who escorted her home as she had told them she just sat in heavy traffic to get there and, for obvious reasons, was very upset.
A private service is being held today for just family members, but Beaulieu said there will be a celebration of life probably in September to accommodate those who wish to pay their respects.
“Oh, there are a lot of people who knew him and respected him, from all walks of life,” said Beaulieu. “Towing can be very competitive, but if anyone needed help, he would lend a hand and vice versa," said Beaulieu.
"The others respected him and liked him well enough that they were there for him when he needed them. I’ve even heard from police who knew him and respected him and I’m seeing comments from people I’ve never even met before who are sad.”
Beaulieu described Whitechurch as a man with a big heart who loved animals.
“Every animal we ever had stayed with us until they died. My horse is 30 years old and we have had him since he was a baby,” said Beaulieu. “Sampson would get the hay and put it in the barn, build the fence around the property, by himself. He was remarkable in how much he cared for animals.”
But animals weren’t the only thing that Whitechurch cared deeply about. He readily took on the role of step-dad for Beaulieu’s children.
“I have four children and he accepted them as his own; not many men would do that,” said Beaulieu. “They accepted him in that role as well. It was tough as two were teenagers and the other two were just a bit younger. But he cared for me and my kids; he was such a good man.”
Whitechurch grew up in Scarborough and, from a young age, did towing all over the GTA and Vaughan, where the couple lived before moving to their Oro-Medonte home.
Beaulieu said it wasn’t easy for Whitechurch to get business as he was initially told by the local police that he wasn’t going to be put on the list of contacts when there was a call for service.
“He had a hard go at first because they told him he had to be here for two years first with restrictions,” said Beaulieu. “I don’t know how he fought it, I stayed out of the towing business, but he did and got what he needed sooner than expected.”
Beaulieu had a brief moment of happiness when explaining the origin of Whitechurch’s nickname.
“'Sampson' was given to him many years ago, I’m told, by some girl he was dating way back then. It’s from the story of Samson and Delilah because of Samson’s long hair, because he (Whitechurch) always had long hair,” said Beaulieu. “I don’t know why Sampson is spelled the way it is, I figure whoever came up with it misspelled it originally. But it stuck.”
Whitechurch leaves behind Beaulieu, four children and seven grandchildren.