A champion in the Penticton region for education has died at the age of 68.
Bruce Johnson was well-respected in the community, working as a principal for two decades of his 34-year run in the Okanagan Skaha School District, retiring in 2006 while at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
He went on to win a seat on the school board, first elected as a trustee in 2011 and continued to be re-elected until 2018.
On Tuesday he died after battling cancer for several years.
Linda Van Alphen, a trustee for the past 16 years, said she will miss his commitment to the schools and to the community.
“I would have to say that Bruce and I sometimes did not see eye-to-eye on things but I was always absolutely amazed at his courage and also his dedication and commitment to schools and the students in the Okanagan School District,” said Van Alphen. “I know we had some very public confrontations but never, in all the time I was there, did I think he wasn’t committed to the students.”
Fighting to keep schools open, Johnson was the lone vote in 2016 (6-1) in favour of rescinding the decision to close McNicoll Park Middle School as well as Trout Creek and West Bench Elementary Schools (the latter two remained open, thanks to last-minute funding). He called the three years prior to that some of the most challenging in education in B.C. but wanted the board to continue to fight to meet their goals.
A testament to his commitment to education, Johnson called into a board meeting as he was undergoing medical treatment in Kelowna at the time and refused to let that stop him from fulfilling his duty to students and parents. Later, when news of last-minute funding came in that stopped the closure of two of the schools, he was elated.
“I took my stand for a lot of reasons. When we had public meetings in West Bench and Trout Creek, I really heard the parents and the students and the entire learning community about their passion for their schools,” Johnson told the Western News at the time. “I credit this to hard work and perseverance. The learning communities of West Bench and Trout Creek have been phenomenal. They fought hard, they came up with creative ideas, they took the high road and it all came together with a terrific result.”
Shelley Clarke, a trustee for the past 11 years, said Johnson was always ready to make someone’s day better.
“Bruce was always one to have a fun story or would try to make your day. At one time we sat beside each other at the school board table and I remember it was a contentious meeting we were in. He had this little page of stickers and peeled one off and stuck it to my computer screen. It was a little happy face and I had it on my computer for a good two or three years. He just always knew how to make my day,” said Clarke.
She passes along her condolences to family and friends, stating she knew how close their family was and how much he loved his grandchildren.
“I just wish he got to spend more time with his family after his retirement. I know it will be tough on the grandchildren, who have lost one of their biggest cheerleaders,” said Clarke.
Johnson also volunteered his time in the community including when the 2016 BC Winter Games were hosted in Penticton.
A celebration of life service for Johnson will take place on Sunday, March 24 at the Penticton Lakeside Resort’s east conference centre from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
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