March 19, 2014 - 4:17 PM
KELOWNA – The announcement Mayor Walter Gray would not be seeking re-election for a fifth term has many city councillors reflecting on the impact he has had over the years.
Gray, 73, was first elected to Council in the '80’s and was elected mayor in 1996, 1999 and 2002. In 2005 he was defeated by Sharon Shepherd but was re-elected again in 2011.
Since that time, Gray has been instrumental in bringing a number of developments to the city, many of them socially driven.
“Walter cares a lot about social issues,” Coun. Colin Basran says. “He is perceived by a lot of people to be all business but he’s done more to advance social issues than people realize.”
Coun. Luke Stack agrees, saying social concerns have always been a part of Gray’s administration.
“One thing Walter doesn’t get enough credit for is the active role he took on the Premier’s Task Force on Homelessness,” Stack says. “At that time he was one of six mayors who threw their hat in the ring to attend to the homeless problem in Kelowna. The result of his work on those committees has landed three very important projects: Newgate in Rutland, Willowbridge and Cardington apartments under the John Howard Society. Those projects probably wouldn’t have come to Kelowna without his involvement.”
Stack says one of the reasons Gray isn’t given the credit he deserves for much of his social work has been timing.
“He basically secured the (Newgate, Willowbridge and Cardington) units and was not long after defeated by Sharon Shepherd. The initial digging was done under his leadership. Walter’s the one who really landed it.”
Coun. Gerry Zimmermann was Fire Chief during the fires of 2003 and worked closely with Gray during that difficult time.
“I think he’s a terrific leader,” he says. “Walter is a consensus builder. He could lead a group to a good decision and that’s not a quality a lot of people have. He is open-minded and I really enjoyed working with him.”
Coun. Gail Given, who is eyeing the Mayor’s chair but stopped short of announcing her candidacy, says her time spent under Gray’s leadership has been inspiring.
“I would aspire to lead in the same way he leads,” she says. “When you can bring together a team that comes from different perspectives and pull that team together to move forward, that’s a great skill to emulate. He’s certainly inspired me from that perspective.”
“The biggest thing with Walter,” Coun. Andre Blanleil says, “is he finds way to get consensus in a group. He doesn’t have any entrenched ideas and has an ability to get people working in the same direction.”
Far from being all-business, many councillors will remember Gray for his light-hearted approach to emotionally-charged issues, like Hiawatha and the new Police Services building.
“He’s very relaxed,” Blanleil says. “He’s constantly telling bad jokes and he’s hilarious to be around.”
“He’s actually a very funny person,” Coun. Mohini Singh says. “He has a great sense of humour. He tells a lot of jokes; some Walter finds funny and some everyone finds funny.”
“Walter has a unique way of using humour to break tension,” Given says. “When we’re really getting into the thick of things or when people become too emotionally invested, he has that timing and that way of breaking the tension. It brings everybody back to focus on the issue rather than on the emotion.”
All the councillors agree the best thing they can say about Gray, is he clearly loves the city of Kelowna.
“He loves this city,” Basran says. “He knows more things about this city than anybody I’ve ever see. He knows how many parking stalls are in a parking lot, he knows where every fire hydrant is. His attention to detail is unbelievable and it’s because he loves his city.”
“He has accomplished what he set out to do,” Singh says. “I have a lot of respect for Walter. He’s an amazing leader and he’s been good for Kelowna.”
“As a person, he’s probably one of the nicest people you will ever meet,” Zimmermann says. “He never says bad things about anybody and he always tries to find the best in everyone. He’s got all the qualities you want in a leader.”
“He’s brought stability to the city,” Coun. Luke Stack says. “Everybody knows the direction Walter wants to take the city and that’s brought a lot of stability to the business community and the development committee.”
“Trust and stability are very important in City Hall.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at email@example.com, call (250) 718-0428.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014