Johnny Coombs struggled to breath, his face flush red, as he choked back tears.
It was an emotional time for the Corner Brook man.
He had family around him in his hospital room on Sunday morning as he celebrated the good news of being chosen 2017 Student of the Year for the Newfoundland and Labrador Laubach Literacy Council.
“I’m proud as a peacock and as you can see he’s as proud as a peacock,” his stepmom Linda Coombs said from his bedside. “It’s a great thing because he never did schooling. All of this is done by people who volunteered to help him out.”
Coombs is no stranger to folks in Corner Brook. He sold single copies of The Western Star in Corner Brook’s downtown for six years and he mowed lawns at Mount Patricia Cemetery for over 20 years.
He’s a familiar face at Tim Hortons, where he loves a hot cup of coffee and a chance to chat with others.
Being able to improve his reading and writing, especially his weekly tutorial session with Greg Smith at the Corner Brook Library, meant a lot to Coombs and he struggled to get the words out when asked about having a support system in place.
“I’m very happy because it helps me socialize with people,” he said.
His stepmom knows how hard he worked at his reading and writing so she was happy to see him recognized in this way.
“He can read and write quite well. He’s very accomplished in his reading and writing,” she said.
With him admitted to hospital, some of his relatives made the long journey from Calgary to visit him and offer their congratulations on a job well done. His uncle Calvin and aunt Donna Allen, along with their son, sister-in-law and two grandchildren are planning on spending three weeks in the city visiting him.
“I think it’s awesome and well-deserved,” Donna Allen said. “He’s always been a hard worker and we’re very proud of him.”