By SHELLY WILKISON
Charles Canady grew up believing that self reliance, hard work, physical strength, family ties and lifelong relationships, along with an unshakable faith could be counted on to move successfully from one day to the next.
He is a collector of clocks — old dilapidated ones, the ones he could repair — and they hang from the walls throughout his house. With once strong hands and a curious mind, he spent years tinkering with them, holding time in his hands and controlling his world. Today, the clocks seem to be ticking down on a life that shaped a family and this community.
At age 51, Canady is fighting for his life. For the past several months, he has been in and out of hospitals, under the care of dozens of doctors, surgeons and specialists trying everything possible to defeat the cancer that took a kidney, moved to his brain, to his lungs and ribs and now his spine.
While some procedures have been successful, it seems to his family that just as progress is made in one area, another tumor surfaces somewhere else.
Although doctors won’t confirm it, some believe a serious electrical accident in 2005 paved the way for cancer.
In October that year, the Canadys had decided to relocate the kitchen in their home. As his wife and son dressed a deer outside, Canady went into the attic to finish moving the wiring before bedtime. Two 220-wires that were uncapped hit him in the back of the head and knocked him out. When he came to, he fell down the stairs and broke a wrist. He had no memory of the electrocution, and laughed about the fall blaming it on clumsiness.
As the weeks passed, his wife, Kathy, noticed something more serious was wrong. But, numerous doctor visits and extensive tests found nothing.
“He declined so rapidly and was all mixed up,” she said. “One day, as I was telling someone what happened to him, Charles suddenly spoke up and said I wasn’t telling the story right — that I forgot about him being electrocuted.”
By the time the cause of the accident was discovered about three weeks after it occurred, Canady was already suffering from seizures, had difficulty walking and lost his short-term memory. He had no sense of taste and didn’t feel hunger, and couldn’t wake himself from sleep. Other serious health problems set in, and he became unable to work.
After years of treatment for the neurological problems, Canady began showing signs of improvement and his family was hopeful that he could return to work and life as he knew it.
Already a leader on the City Council, as his health improved, he became even more involved in city government.
Then in 2011, Canady again began showing signs of decline. In 2012, tests revealed a tumor in his kidney. The kidney was removed, and in the past two years, tumors surfaced in his lungs, and two more were discovered in his brain. And just as he overcame major surgeries for those, more tumors were discovered in his ribs, hip, scapula and spine.
“He has overcome a lot,” said Mrs. Canady, his wife of 22 years. “He is determined to stay here with us, and can sometimes be pretty stubborn and contrary about it.”
Three weeks ago, as growing tumors on his spine began causing paralysis, Canady decided to try one final surgery in hopes of being able to walk again. In his weakened state, he was moved into the Intensive Care Unit at Seton Williamson Hospital in Round Rock within hours after the surgery and remained there two weeks. Doctors predicted he would not be able to return home and there were no more options for treatment.
Last Thursday, her husband was moved out of ICU and into a regular hospital room as doctors tried to regulate medications and replace the feeding tube in his nose with one in his stomach in hopes of moving him home. Doctors say there is nothing else they can do to treat the tumors, which continue to grow. His body is too weak.
Hospice Care is the next step, with the goal of keeping him comfortable.
“It’s hard to be stuck in this bed,” Canady said Friday during an emotional interview with The Independent. “But, it’s even harder to watch my family go through this, and knowing what comes next.”
Most days, Canady said his pain level starts at an 8 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst.
“I’m lucky when I can make myself think about when we were kids,” he said. “If I can’t daydream about stuff like that, I’m thinking about the sad things that are coming up. I’m hoping when we get home, that it will get easier (to stay positive). I really want to be in my own bed.”
Canady was born to Joe Ed and Nina Faye Canady, and was raised in a two-story farm house in old town Liberty Hill. His father owned the Quick Service Garage, just as his father and grandfather before him. He learned how to fix all makes and models of vehicles and farm equipment from watching them.
He attended Liberty Hill schools, was first chair trumpet in the high school band. He was supposed to graduate with the class of 1980, but he had more than enough credits in 1979 and left school early to work in the garage.
Canady is an artist and a carpenter. When he was younger, he took art classes in Georgetown, painted with oils and did charcoal drawings. He also did stained glass and woodworking.
Canady says he never had a desire to live anywhere but Liberty Hill. The hometown of generations of his family meant everything to him and this is where he wanted to spend his life.
“Knowing who you are and where you come from is still important,” said Canady.
Going home to Liberty Hill to spend the rest of his life has become the goal now.
“I want to spend the rest of my time with the kids and my wife, but I don’t know what it will be like,” he said. “She (Mrs. Canady) has had a hard time. She tells me not to worry about things, to work on recovery and focus on getting well.”
The last time he was home, Canady attempted to replace a headlight on the family car while his wife was running errands. As he worked, a tumor “popped loose in his spine” and he fell to the driveway paralyzed, unable to move. Neighbors found him there and brought him into the house.
Liberty Hill’s longest serving council member
Canady was asked to serve on the first City Council after Liberty Hill voted to incorporate in 1999. He recalls his father discouraging him from serving in spite of the pleas of a persistent Nathan Wetzel, who would serve as Liberty Hill’s first mayor. Canady said his father had served on the Board of Directors for the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department and had endured a great deal of stress in that position.
“I thought it was something worth doing, and I thought I could make a difference and help the town,” Canady recalls of his decision to join the council.
He served 13 years, frequently stepping up as mayor pro tem to lead as interim mayor. The formative years were tumultuous for a small community anticipating growth, and Canady often found himself in decision-making positions having to choose between longtime friendships and what he thought was best for the city.
The political pressure he felt from those he believed were looking out for their own self interests was painful, and caused intense stress in the Canady household. Looking back, Canady says tearfully that he would give anything to have the years back.
However, at the time, he believed public service was an honorable thing to do for his beloved hometown. He saw it as a way to help shape the future of a town he hoped one day would be a destination for tourists while offering stable jobs and opportunities for young people.
He said he wanted to make his family proud and help build a community — leaving a legacy for his children and grandchildren.
“I wanted it (Liberty Hill) to be more like Georgetown, a quiet country town with a scenic aspect to it,” he said.
“He was thinking of his kids and of their future here,” said Councilmember Liz Rundzieher. “This city would be nowhere today if it weren’t for Charles Canady.”
Mrs. Rundzieher, who served on the council alongside Canady, said the two deskmates developed a close friendship through their years in public service. While observers may have believed he controlled her vote, she said the two shared a vision for Liberty Hill and agreed on most issues. When the time came to vote against him on something, he understood, she said.
Mrs. Rundzieher accompanied Canady many times as he knocked on doors from Liberty Hill to Parmer Lane encouraging property owners to annex into Liberty Hill.
Worried that neighboring towns were quickly encroaching on Liberty Hill, and threatened to swallow up any identity of this place, Canady worked tirelessly to share with individual property owners his vision for the future.
“He had a vision, and he knew what he wanted to see for Liberty Hill,” said Mrs. Rundzieher. “He wanted it to be the best and still remain the Liberty Hill he knew.”
Mrs. Rundzieher and former council members Glen Gavin and Glenda Gavin described Canady as a forward-thinking leader who could see the potential growth of the community long before anyone else. While many disagreed with his ideas, his friends say he was thinking of the future.
“He worked so hard on the city council,” recalls Mrs. Gavin, who later served with Canady on the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. Board of Directors. “If it weren’t for him, a lot of this side of Parmer would not be in Liberty Hill. Instead it would be Georgetown or Leander. He is the reason for that. He talked to those people and got them to annex.”
After the accident, “Charles wasn’t feeling good anymore and the friction (on the council) began to wear on him,” said Mrs. Rundzieher, remembering Canady’s final years of service. She said his intentions were frequently misunderstood and his ability to communicate waned as his health deteriorated. Although he filed for re-election in 2011, he withdrew his name before the election.
Raised to help others
Aside from his work on the council, Mrs. Gavin said Canady routinely helped people from his Quick Service Garage downtown.
“So many people came in there, he would fix their cars and would send them on their way. He’d just say ‘pay me next time,’” she said. “He never did a thing execpt try to help the town and the people in it.”
Canady said he was raised to help others.
“I was just brought up that way,” he said. “You hope that someday those who you helped would help somebody else. A lot of them were families who got stranded here and couldn’t get back home.”
“I never saw him (Canady) unable to fix something,” said Glen Gavin. “If there was ever a day like that, I wasn’t aware of it.”
Gavin, who served on the council after his wife, remains one of Canady’s closest friends. The two mechanics spent a great deal of time together in the garage working on old vehicles and talking politics. Gavin said all work would stop when someone stopped in. Canady was generous with his stories of the old days of Liberty Hill and was a walking history book of local families and the happenings of the town.
Canady’s children, Blair, 18, and Paige, 15, don’t remember a day when their parents didn’t spend some portion of it talking about city politics. Their oldest sister, Kristin Davis of Burnet, added that it “drove her crazy.”
“It seemed like there was always a meeting or a cause or something that took up his time,” she said. “There was always someone stopping by the shop to talk about politics, not to mention the heated elections and the mud that was being slung in the direction of our family during each election.”
Mrs. Davis, 29, is a patrol corporal with the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office. She and her husband, Jason, made Canady a “grampy” in recent years. Their son, Walker, 3, is Canady’s pride and joy and the couple is expecting a second child this summer.
Blair and Paige have spent much of the past year taking care of each other while their parents were in hospitals and doctors offices.
“In the past year, we’ve spent six months alone in the house,” said Blair. “They come home then go back to the hospital. Sometimes playing mom is fun, but we miss our mom.”
“We fight a lot, but this has made us really close,” added Paige. “We’re two peas in a pod.”
“Our dad is a working man. It makes me sad to know he is so sick like this, and it’s difficult because we need him at home,” said Blair. “We hope this is the last time he will be in a hospital because he isn’t happy like he is. When God takes him, it will be for a reason. He’s got a good soldier and he’s been fighting for a long time.”
The girls say every day they wake up thinking it will be the day they lose their daddy. Every slight improvement in his condition is a sign of hope, but they watch their mother struggle between hope and sadness.
“He’s not ready to go,” Blair said. “He’s scared for us and my mom.”
“I always knew my mom was strong, but I never knew how strong,” said Mrs. Davis. “My mom has been by his side pushing his doctors, researching alternative treatments and coordinating all his appointments and tests. She has lived at the hospital every time he is there and still has to get her regular work done on the weekends. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t give up.”
Mrs. Canady’s first husband passed away suddenly when she was pregnant with their son, Brandon, now 22. Kristin was six.
“Our first date was at the Burger King and our second date was Chinese food,” said Mrs. Canady, smiling and she recalls the early days of their relationship.
After her first husband passed, she continued his business of cutting and bailing hay around Liberty Hill and Bertram. She said she had come to know Joe Ed Canady because she called on him frequently to repair her farm equipment.
One day, she called the Quick Service Garage to ask him for help getting the tractor started. The elder Canady wasn’t there, so his son went instead.
On Friday, Canady appeared to be drifting to sleep in his hospital bed as his wife told the story, rolling his eyes from time to time as she became animated by her story.
“He drove up in his ‘53 Chevy, tossed out the jumper cables and said ‘this is how you do it,’ like he was really put out with me,” she said. “I hollered back at him that I’d never call on him for help again.”
Soon after, Joe Ed Canady invited her over for supper and when she arrived, they were shearing sheep and goats. She said they enjoyed each other’s company and began a courtship lasted about four months. They married in 1992 when Brandon was 22 months old. Canady legally adopted Brandon and Kristin.
“He walked down the aisle carrying Brandon sound asleep in his arms,” Mrs. Canady said of their wedding.
“I was spoiled and scared of what a new person would mean for my family,” recalls Mrs. Davis. “Charles never tried to replace my dad. He just tried to be there or me. When he was dating my mom he would come out to our house to hand out with us after work. When it was my bed time, he would sit on the floor next to the couch and hold my hand until I fell asleep because I was too afraid to sleep upstairs. He didn’t complain or tell me to grow up. He knew that reassurance was what I needed and he gave it to me willingly.”
Although now fearful of a life without their father, the girls have fond memories that they share freely quick to bring a smile and then a laugh.
“I will miss all the stories,” said Paige. “He would make them up while he was telling us goodnight. Most were about Pegasus and Hercules.”
Canady would climb into the top bunk with his youngest daughter, tell stories until she drifted off to sleep or they both fell asleep. Blair recalls waking up to see her dad climbing down and then asking him to sleep by her. Almost always he would comply regardless of the hour.
“I remember sitting out on the porch with him during the big flood (2007) that took out the bridge (RR 1869 over the San Gabriel River),” said Blair. “We ate cherries and spit the pits into the grass. I was afraid our house would be flooded, and he told me that cherries would grow from the pits.”
An account to help the family pay for Canady’s medical expenses has been created at Union State Bank in Liberty Hill.