Elef Christensen, multiple term director for Area G (Hedley/Rural Keremeos) died Saturday afternoon in Hedley. He was 73.
Christensen collapsed on the sidewalk outside his home and store, which is next door, in the afternoon. Bystanders performed CPR and used an AED on Christensen before first responders arrived. First responders from the Hedley Volunteer Fire Department also tried to revive Christensen before paramedics arrived. A coroner arrived on scene several hours later.
As a politician Christensen often made headlines locally and with regional media, most recently a few days before his death for having the highest expenses of any regional board director in the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen.
Karla Kozakevich, chair of the board of the RDOS said the news came as a shock, although directors had known he wasn’t well for quite some time.
The pair often found themselves on different sides of a vote, but Kozakevich said that’s what politics is about, and different opinions are important.
“Elef was a very friendly and genuine individual. He was definitely one of a kind and will be missed by the RDOS elected officials and staff. Our sincere condolences go out to Director Christensen’s family and friends.”
Alternate for Area G, Roger Mayer, is expected to fill in around the board table until the election in the fall.
Longtime friend Ruth Woodin said Christensen brought people together and was the driving force behind several initiatives in Hedley.
The pair met in the 1990s when Christensen moved to Hedley from Langley and opened his store Misty Mountain Gift Shop. They first met at the post office as Woodin was postmaster. Then Christensen joined the Hedley Community Club and they worked together for years volunteering for the community.
She said, Christensen was born in Denmark and moved to Canada in his early adult life.
Woodin said the pair travelled to Denmark and Sweden once in the late 1990s to watch an International Soccer Tournament.
“There were kids from all over the world. It was something quite incredible. It was something he started. When he came to Langley he was involved in sports and he and his friends go this idea to start something international. He used to be quite the soccer player in his younger years,” she said.
Christensen was chairman of the Hedley Community Club for many years. At the time Woodin was treasurer-secretary.
“He was always getting a committee together to do something. I was always one of his first calls because it was pretty easy to sucker me in,” she said.
During his time with the club, he and other volunteers revamped Woodlie Park and put in all new playground equipment.
“The playground equipment wasn’t up to safety code. An old teeter totter had come down and hit a child. He was the driving force to get that fixed up and get a bunch of new equipment for the kids,” she said.
Woodin said after rumours started money wasn’t managed properly, a government auditor came in to check out the project.
“I was the treasurer on that one and you had to round up to the nearest dollar. When all was said and done I ended up being out two cents. But, it took that for people to know nothing went on with the money.”
He was also part of the controversial project that saw the Community Club receive a grant to update the ball park and the ice rink area. In the accounting for the project it showed Christensen had paid himself and billed expenses to his store.
Although Woodin wasn’t the treasurer on that project, she said she didn’t believe he did anything wrong.
“He took a lot of verbal abuse from people over the years. He did a lot for this community and I don’t think he deserved it,” she said.
In addition to the community club, Christensen was also the driving force behind getting the Hedley Cemetery reopened.
Woodin remembered fondly birthday parties Christensen held in his driveway. He’d put on a big pig roast and “invite half the valley.”
“There’d be all sorts of people there. I met Alex Atamanenko (former MP) there. There’d be other retired politicians there, secretary of the high school, and other people from all walks of life. He had a heart of gold.”
Woodin said Christensen leaves behind a longtime partner and two adult children in B.C. and extended family in Denmark.