Like a lot of young men, Randy Witherington had always dreamed of being a firefighter, an EMT, or a police officer. He became a junior firefighter in 1979, and participated in the disaster relief effort when Hurricane Fredrick assaulted the Gulf Coast in 1979.
“I was actually in the storm, riding patrol with the Daphne Police Department, and from then on, I was hooked,” he said.
Witherington served in many capacities during his time with the fire department and police, including search and rescue, recovery, and the dive team. He also attained his certification as an EMT. In addition to serving with the Daphne Police Department, Witherington has also worked with MedStar Ambulance, Pennington Police Department, and Summerdale Police Department. “I always said I’d be a police officer, a firefighter, or an EMT, and I have accomplished all three,” said Witherington.
In 1981, Witherington met the love of his life, Ashley Lancaster, and they married in 1985. Their marriage was a happy one that produced two daughters, Denise and Sara.
“Ashley is one of the funniest people I have ever met,” Witherington said. “She loved life and she loved to laugh. In fact, she had a vanity plate on her car that read: “10 NTY6″, which is the ten code for a mentally disturbed person (10-96). We were meant for one another. We had so much fun together. Her only fault was that she smoked. I bribed her to quit smoking with the promise of a vacation to the Bahamas if she would quit smoking.”
The two had plans to grow old together, until the Witheringtons received news that would forever change their lives. Although she stopped smoking in 2008, Ashley developed a chronic cough. She was diagnosed with cancer, and doctors removed her lower left lung.
“She underwent chemo as a preventive measure, to keep the cancer from coming back. I had only heard of how chemo can ravage a person’s body until now. After chemo, the cancer came back in her lymph nodes. And once again, I almost had a heart attack,” Witherington said.
After 39 radiation treatments, Ashley was once again cancer free. But the cancer returned, and Witherington said doctors told them there was no other option.
In March of 2010, Ashley was given twelve months to live. The Witheringtons researched treatment centers. With the help of Relay for Life and Hope Lodge, Ashley received the treatment that she needed. Every 21 days, the Witheringtons traveled to Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville for treatment. Ashley bravely endured the treatment, but sadly, she lost her fight for life on December 21, 2011.
“This is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, and I would never wish it on any one person. You never know how strong a person is until cancer and chemo comes into your life,” said Witherington. “Ashley is in the arms of God now. She is loved and missed by all.”
Just before Ashley passed away, the two of them took a dream vacation that inspired Witherington to help others.
“This amazing trip brought back such life in her, that we began thinking of how many people are just trying to stay alive and do not have such an opportunity,” said Witherington. “There is the ‘Make A Wish’ foundation for children with terminal illness, but there isn’t anything like that for adults. Ashley wanted to start a non profit organization to help terminally ill cancer patients to have the same opportunity. She wanted to have a pink police car to represent our organization and as an ‘attention-getter’. ”
In memory of his wife, Witherington created a group called Living for a Dream to raise cancer awareness by contributing to the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. He wants to help patients who are suffering from terminal cancer by providing dream vacations.
Witherington is a part-time police officer in Pennington, Alabama. Along with friends and fellow officers, he created a pink police car to promote their foundation. “We purchased this car from Gov Deals one day before Ashley passed away. We had a painter at Robinson Brothers Ford/Lincoln/Mercury/Volvo in Mobile donate his amazing talents and hard work. Custom Order Police Specialties (COPS) in Loxley and Sound Off Signal have transformed the car with lights, siren push bumper, camera and cage. Bobby Lay and his wife, of Riviera Utilities donated their time and talent to re-upholster the interior.
“The car came in as a total wreck. We replaced several body parts, mechanical parts, have brand new lighting, interior,” said Glen Davies, a friend of Witherington. “We’re completing something she (Ashley) wanted to do with Randy to begin with. So, we all came together and it’s a dream come true,” Davies said.
The car has been painted pink, purple, and white to represent all types of cancer. They even detailed the inside of the car from the headliner to the floorboards.
“Legally, we can stop you, write you tickets, and take you to jail in a pink police car,” said Witherington.
The car made its debut at the Relay for Life event in downtown Foley, Alabama, on Friday, April 13. It will also be on display at the Relay for Life in Orange Beach, Alabama, on Friday, April 20. Future appearances include Relay for Life events in Butler, Alabama on April 28, and in Daphne, Alabama, on May 11.
“Our mission is statement is to raise cancer awareness by contributing to the American Cancer Society and by helping adult cancer patients who are suffering from terminal cancer by providing vacations as a respite from this deadly disease,” said Witherington.
Now COPS has a whole new meaning: “Caring Officers Providing Support”. “We are getting back to the real meaning of policing, which is helping the community, not just putting people in jail,” said Witherington.
To make a donation to the organization, contact Randy Witherington at (251) 747-3908. Checks may be written to Living for a Dream. The website, which is still under construction, iswww.livingforadream.org.