Many of the elected officials had rubbed shoulders before. But for others, this was their first time to shake hands and exchange a few words.
On Monday, mayors and councillors from the six North Okanagan municipalities, all five electoral area directors, MLA Eric Foster, school board chairperson Bill Turanski and former politicians filled a corner of Trinity United Church to pay final respects to Patrick Nicol.
“I would like to point out that it is not an accident that the elected officials who are attending here are sitting together,” said Rob Sawatzky, Vernon’s mayor, during his eulogy.
“Patrick worked long and hard to represent and support even the smallest communities within the North Okanagan Regional District in his role as the chair of the board.”
Nicol is often associated as a Vernon city councillor and rightly so as he held that position for 22 years, one of the longest serving politicians ever in B.C.
But Nicol didn’t see boundaries. For him, the entire North Okanagan was his home and a win for Enderby was a win for Vernon and vice versa.
It was because of that big-picture vision that Nicol was the first Vernon politician to be named chairperson of the Regional District of North Okanagan since it was formed in 1965.
“I really believe in the regional district and we represent all of the region. I’ve never believed in a segmented version,” he said in a 2011 interview.
He considered everyone in the region his constituent and he would spend countless hours reading through documents to familiarize himself with issues of concern. Frequently, he was the only one to ask a question of staff or a delegation on a development proposal or some other item coming from a rural area.
When it came to the provincial government’s bungled meat processing regulations, he led the charge to protect local farmers and consumers.
“People want their food grown locally and they want access to it,” he said just last month.
Nicol loved baseball and that was apparent as reporters lobbed questions about Ashton Creek flooding or Greater Vernon water. He knocked answers over the fence.
On weekends, he loved to celebrate the distinct communities of the region, whether it was attending Cherryville Days, taking in the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong or touring Grindrod’s new community hall.
Such a keen advocate of agriculture and youth, Nicol initiated scholarships for local 4-H students.
Much has been made of jurisdictional infighting over the years but there have been great strides to heal those wounds. Just look at the agreements in Greater Vernon to resolve protracted disputes over water, parks and recreation.
Nicol always played down his role in such matters, and insisted they were a team effort.
“I’m hopeful the significant issues that come before us will be done in a sense of co-operation. This organization deserves strong leadership and co-operation,” he said of RDNO.
In concluding his remarks Monday, Sawatzky said, “We felt that it would be symbolic of our respect for him and his work and his desire for his community if we could be seated together.”
But for that unity to be truly meaningful, it needs to last longer than the memorial service.
The best way for elected officials to pay tribute to Nicol is to embrace his passion for the region as a whole and to look past lines on a map.
He recognized that when it comes to the North Okanagan’s communities, there is more that brings us together than pulls us apart.