We lost some very good people in 2018

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
January 5, 2019 - 7:00am
Image Credit: Mel Rothenburger

I ONCE ARM WRESTLED Dr. Cynthia Ross-Friedman.

In March 2014 I was interviewing her for a segment of Coffee With the Armchair Mayor, a feature I used to do for CBC Radio.

I don’t remember why we decided to arm wrestle but it likely had something to do with the subject of the interview, which was International Women’s Day, men vs. women and all that.

Neither do I remember who won, but we likely called it a draw in the spirit of equality.

Cindy died on Christmas eve, capping a sad year in which a lot of good people were lost to us.

Only a couple of weeks before she was killed by an aortic dissection, which is a tear in the wall of the major artery that carries blood from the heart, Radio NL reporter Angelo Iacobucci died.

Earlier in the year, long-time Logan Lake mayor and TNRD chair Al Kemp, political junky and community volunteer Ted Joslin, and Radio NL founder and former City councillor John Skelly were taken.

I had the privilege of knowing all of them. Though their personalities and ages were very different, they all had in common a drive to make their community better.

Angelo was a fascinating character and a remarkable journalist. Kemp was a low-key guy who quietly went about his work as the mayor of Logan Lake and chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. Over the years, Ted Joslin was a frequent visitor to the newsroom of the Kamloops Daily News both for his political involvement and his commitment to various community projects. His opinions often found their way into print via letters to the editor. John Skelly expanded the local media market with the addition of radio CHNL, and served on City council as a rational, moderate voice.

I think, too, of my father-in-law Paul Jones, who died on Dec. 12. In addition to his day job, he was a writer and an artist and for all his 97 years he had a curiosity about new things and a willingness to pitch in and help, whether it be a neighbor who needed a driveway cleared of snow or a community needing a new arts facility.

He was a leading force in the successful campaign to build the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. This past November, he made sure to get out and vote in favour of a new art gallery-museum complex — it, too, was successful.

And Cindy Ross-Friedman. Let me tell you a little of what I came to know about her. It began with the Ajax mine project. She and I — like so many others — were against it because we believed it wouldn’t be good for Kamloops.

She was active in the Kamloops and District Labour Council, the Kamloops Area Preservation Association and the TRU Faculty Association, the latter holding a number of public forums on the mine. She often played a role in hosting such events.

I was struck, as was everyone who ever met her, by her effervescence, which I’m sure contributed to her popularity and success as a classroom instructor. She won awards for her research, and I remember her once giving a public talk on the sex life of an obscure plant parasite. I thought at the time it was the sort of subject matter only someone like her could be enthusiastic about and make interesting.

Cindy referred to herself as an “activist scientist.” She was also a musician. She was a cat person. She enjoyed challenges and people.

She had a keen interest in civic issues and what made cities tick. Taxation, ward systems, transparency in government. When she was thinking about running for mayor in the 2017 by-election, I encouraged her to go for it. I felt that someone of her intellect, creativity and ability to bring people together was worth hearing.

And because she was a woman? Sure, partly, because civic politics needs more women, but her gender was coincidental to her many strengths. I got her together with another friend and experienced political campaigner, Tyler Carpentier, who became her campaign manager.

I was disappointed when she had to drop out due to health-related family reasons.

I got to know something about her compassionate nature when she reached out to support our family during some very tough times. Such gestures are all the more significant given that she was facing some challenges of her own.

She moved to Edmonton awhile back to take a position as a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta. We exchanged thoughts via email on proportional representation and other issues. We planned to meet for coffee the next time she was back in Kamloops.

Each year, we lose good people. The year 2017 wasn’t good, either. Christopher Seguin, former mayor John Dormer, businessman Gary Candido, writer Richard Wagamese, former Kamloops City councilor Dave Gracey, Coun. Marg Spina, and former cabinet minister Rafe Mair were among those taken from us.

It takes a lot of people to make a community a good place to live. Many never get their names in the media like the ones I’ve mentioned today, but they make a difference nonetheless. One of the most important attributes of such people is that they care about others.

The ones who make the most difference never stop. They put in countless hours, offer their ideas and expertise, and somehow squeeze it in around the daily challenges of life. Some make their mark by force of personality, some quietly work behind the scenes.

When we lose them, it hurts.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at [email protected].