Last Thursday afternoon, two kayaks, paddled by two middle-aged men, pulled up to the Dutch Gap boat landing right off the James River in Chester. Sun burnt and damp, they had just concluded a four-day, 90-mile aquatic adventure which began in Suffolk, Va., early Monday morning; yet their energy confirmed they could have gone on for days.
The grueling journey wasn’t the result of some middle-aged crisis they tried to purge – in fact they didn’t even do it for themselves. It was meant to celebrate the life of another.
Rather than dwelling on the loss of his late mother, Doris Peach, who died of Pancreatic Cancer a year ago, Sept. 28 (the day after the two arrived in Chester), Scott Peach, Jr., instead, found a way to honor her. A Chesterfield native, Peach, now living in Florida as a senior automation analyst, felt tracing his mother’s life journey was the best way to honor her years as a remarkable woman, he said.
“When Mom passed away, I just wanted to do something special,” Peach said. “I wanted to do this in memory of her, a journey from her birth in Suffolk to her resting place in Chester.” She had lived in Chesterfield for most of her adult life.
Doris, whom Peach considers an “outstanding person, a wonderful mother, devoted wife, and a friend to many, many people,” once worked for Allied Chemical in Hopewell, which later became Allied-Signal, and then Honeywell. At one time during her career, she moved to the corporation’s Tech Center in Chester, managing a telecommunications operation for the site before joining AT&T.
She passed away at 67, and had just experienced her first year of retirement when the cancer came abruptly. “She was such a very giving, loving person,” said Doris’ sister, Irie, who came to support the kayaking excursion to Chester. “She was always thinking of other people, and she loved her family so much.”
The idea came to Peach in March of this year to bring awareness to Pancreatic Cancer, the nation’s fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths; he said it has no test for early detection and it is often diagnosed too late for any chance of surgical removal, therefore negatively impacting the survival rate for those with the cancer.
Observing that research for the terminal disease was dwindling, Peach took a stand by raising money for the Lustgarten Foundation, which was created to find better treatments and a cure for Pancreatic Cancer.
“I didn’t know all that much about Pancreatic Cancer,” he said about his lack of knowledge before it struck his mother. “And now I know more than I’ll ever want to know.”
His decision to complete “In Memory of Mom,” the name of the trip, was shared with friends and family, as well as with numerous newspapers in Port Orange, Fla., and other parts of Florida, to increase awareness of the illness and its lack of research funding.
When Peach, and his long-time friend, Les Preece, arrived in Chester Thursday, he had raised $4,650 for the foundation, only a few hundred shy of his initial goal of $5,000. The two trekked 20-plus miles each day, camping out two nights and then spending one evening at a friend’s house; each day they kayaked from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It was very gratifying, but I’m a little sad that it’s over … it was just letting people know there’s not enough research out there, there’s no test for it, there’s no cure for it,” Peach said. “I don’t know if it’s going to enlighten the world, but if one person learns something and maybe it helps save a life, I think that was four days well spent.”
Having showed up long before the two men arrived, Peach’s family posted signs and posters on the landing dock applauding the men on the successful voyage. Their signs read “Nice Job Scott and Les,” and “Congratulations on the big finish.” When they were seen emerging from around a sharp corner of the James River, from an eastern loop, Peach’s father, Scott Peach, Sr., Irie, her husband, and several of Peach’s first cousins, jumped up from their seats, which were several feet away from the edge of the riverbank, and met them joyfully with open arms at the river dock.
“He felt he had to do something positive for his mother,” said Peach’s cousin, Joyce Edwards, a Chester resident, who witnessed the men’s arrival. “The family had grown up on the water, so I think this is a great tribute to her because she’d love it out here.”
Peach couldn’t agree more. “Just to see people here to support what we were doing for her, it shows a lot of love for Mom and the things that were really important to her,” he said. Peach said they hope to do the trip again next year, maybe even making it an annual tradition to commemorate his mother’s life.
And though it was a challenge to complete – because kayaking 90 miles in four days seems no easy task to undergo – Peach was able to push on through when he reminded himself of the reason he did the trip in the first place.
“Yesterday at 2:58 we stopped and talked to Mom, because that’s when she died. That was the whole reason for doing it; and whenever things became difficult, in either the organization of the trip or in actually doing the trip, I just thought to myself: this is all about mom, this is why we’re doing it,” he said. “If a person has a reason like that, anybody can do it.”
After the family gathering, they drove to Sunset Memorial Park to observe the resting place of Doris.