Former Kelowna mayor Walter Gray, and two former veteran city councillors, Andre Blanleil and Robert Hobson—both of whom joined Gray in calling it a career prior to November’s civic election—have been given the city’s highest honour.
The trio, all credited for influencing Kelowna in different ways during for their respective 20-plus-year careers in local government here, were given the Freedom of the City during a gala dinner Saturday night.
Gray, Hobson and Blanleil were feted at the gala, organized by community members to celebrate their contributions to the city during their respective long careers on council.
Gray served twice as mayor, first for three terms from 1996 to 2005 and then again for one term from 2011 to 2014. He also served four years as a councillor during the 1980s.
Hobson served 26 straight years as a city councillor, starting in 1988. Twenty of those years he also served as chairman of the Central Okanagan Regional District.
Blanleil served 21 straight years on council, starting in 1993.
Current Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, who sat as a councillor with Blanleil and Hobson in Gray’s last administration, presented the Freedom of the City to the trio on behalf of the current council. He said when the proposal to confer the titles on Gray, Hobson and Blanleil was made, support was unanimous.
Basran said the three men each brought unique qualities to the job, what he called “cornerstone qualities that raised the performance of entire councils to new heights.”
“Walter is the consummate chairman of the board,” said Basran. “His superior administrative and team-building skills enabled him to take big ideas and turn them into reality during his 12 years as mayor and 16 years on council. His leadership and vision inspired council to think big, be brave and believe in our ability to achieve great things.”
The current mayor praised Blanleil for his candour on council.
“Andre’s plain-spoken approach to council discussions kept his colleagues on their toes and city staff pencils well-sharpened. His lifelong work in the local business and sports communities provided Council with valuable grassroots insights on decisions over 21 years that shaped our community into one that delivers high value for tax dollars.”
And Basran said Hobson, the longest serving of the three, brought “a planners eye and environmentalist’s heart” to the job.
“Robert brought a professional planner’s eye and an environmentalist’s heart to the council chamber for 26 years,” said Basran. “His advocacy on behalf of park creation, a bicycle path network, transit and cultural services put Kelowna at the forefront of initiatives to create a safe and sustainable city.
The Freedom of the City is given to people who have made outstanding contributions to the Kelowna, or who have achieved the highest success in sport, culture, business or community service.
It has been awarded 15 times previously, the last time in 2008, when former Sen. Ross Fitzpatrick was named a Freeman of the city. In 2003, when former Mayor JimStuart and then long-time councillor Ben Lee did not seek re-election, they received the honour. Both men also had major city parks named after them.