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Saanich's champion of clean water, Bob Gillespie, dies

Sep 29 2012
Saanich Councillor Bob Gillespie 

Saanich Councillor Bob Gillespie

Photograph by: Darren Stone , Times Colonist

Feisty, folksy and never reluctant to speak his mind, Bob Gillespie - who served 18 years on Saanich Council and championed fresh water - has died.

He was 82. A life-long resident of Saanich, including 70 years on Epsom Drive, Gillespie was passionate about politics but was not a "professional politician," says David Cubberley, a former councillor and MLA in Saanich.

"Bob was a real character and a genuinely nice man," Cubberley adds. "One of the things I liked about him most - and we didn't always agree - was that if Bob felt strongly about something, he took a stand. And that speaks to character."

Gillespie will be fondly remembered by the community, says Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. "He always spoke from the heart. His opinion was only his ... nobody really knew what side Bob was on."

Constituents loved Gillespie, Leonard said, whether for his "old-style populist-type brand or [because] he just spoke his mind."

Both Cubberley and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham credit Gillespie for his leadership in protecting the regional water supply and advocating for local farmers.

Gillespie introduced the first motion that led to preferential rates if water was used for farming. As a member of the water commission, Gillespie played a key role in "cleaning up the mismanagement of the water district" Cubberley adds, ultimately leading to public representatives taking the reins instead of political appointees.

A "remarkable" member of the community, he was instrumental in getting the Sooke Dam raised and making sure the reservoir was expanded, Popham says. Moreover, he made sure it was done properly "with a lot of public oversight and making sure it was environmentally sound," Cubberley adds.

Gillespie, an electrical contractor, was first elected to Saanich council in 1990. He decided to retire in 2008. But long before his political career, he made a habit of putting up lights around local athletic fields to help sports groups, Leonard notes.

Leonard recalls Gillespie talking about growing up in the Blenkinsop area and "shooting ducks out of his bedroom window as a kid."

Later he turned to golf, joining the Cedar Hill Golf Club in 1977, though he played the course for years before the municipality acquired the property in 1967.

"Bob contributed a lot of memories to the new history book we just published, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Cedar Hill Golf Club," says club president Valerie Mieras in an email.

"He was also a mentor to me when I first took on being president, helping me understand how municipal politics works."

Gillespie was "very intelligent and strategic" and a fixture Saturday mornings playing crib in the clubhouse with his buddies.

He prided himself on being issues-based rather than partisan but, in 2002, with only two New Democrats amid 77 B.C. Liberals in the legislature, Gillespie was quoted in a Times Colonist story saying: "We as council and councillors have to be the opposition."

His death leaves "a big hole in the community," Popham says.

"If events had anything to do with agriculture and food, he would always be there. I'll miss seeing his face."

Gillespie was predeceased by two wives, a son and great-granddaughter and leaves behind longtime friend Jean, a son, daughter, and 11 grand-and great-grandchildren.

There will be no service at his request.

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