Letnick: Outgoing Kelowna mayor will be missed

The news that incumbent Mayor Walter Gray will not be seeking re-election this fall is the end of an era for Kelowna.

It looks like Kelowna’s municipal politics will be changing soon, and the question has been asked: What next?

But that is a question best answered by others.

I think it is safe to say the news that incumbent Mayor Walter Gray will not be seeking re-election this fall is the end of an era for Kelowna.

Like all public figures Walter has his supporters and detractors, but the announcement that he will be leaving public life provides a perfect opportunity to focus on the decades of commitment to public service that has been Walter’s career.

He has touched the lives of many in our fine city and is highly respected throughout British Columbia.

In recognition of his service to the community, he was actively courted by members of the B.C. Liberal party to seek provincial office.

In his professional life Walter began a career in radio in 1957 and went on to own and operate five radio stations throughout the Okanagan and Kootenay areas.

In 1986, he made the jump to politics and was first elected to Kelowna city council and would later be elected mayor four times.

Walter loves our city and province and he is always thinking of ways to make life better for everyone and move them both forward.

Frequently, he would call me with another idea on how we could work together to build much needed infrastructure.

“I have an idea Norm,” he would say, “one that makes great sense and only costs the province a few million.”

To be honest, I always loved Walter’s ideas—the idea to build a billion-dollar second crossing even before the paint was dry on the new William R. Bennett Bridge, which replaced the old Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge; the idea to build a hospice in Kelowna, which happened thanks to his leadership and that of Brad Bennett and many others; and the $50-million idea to extend Highway 33 from Rutland and connect it to the new road from downtown that currently ends at Glenmore.

There are many more, but this is a short column.

The two things I appreciate most about Walter is his unwavering commitment to open Kelowna for business and his personal and public support when I first considered putting my name forward to serve our community on council and later as the MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country.

This public support as a sitting mayor for another aspiring politician is not something one sees very often these days and is another example of his strength of character.

Walter has never been one to shy away from the media spotlight. This has been funny, and sometimes controversial.

He posed with our friends from Sandalwood (retirement home) in attire most would call skimpy, to generate funds for the hospice and attracted lots of attention when he agreed to be interviewed by a topless columnist.

He may be stepping out of public life but, thanks to Mayor Walter Gray, our city is a great place to be.

Any aspiring mayoral candidates out there will have a tough act to follow.