The Kelowna business community bid a fond farewell to outgoing Mayor Walter Gray Friday, marking his last day in office by not only having him address the city’s chamber of commerce one last time as mayor, but also by presenting a short video tribute of the man who has lead the city for 12 of the last 18 years.
“I’ll miss being part of the action. But I have no regrets,” said Gray about his decision not to seek re-election in the recent municipal vote.
That election saw one of Gray’s councillors, Colin Basran, elected to succeed him in the mayor’s chair.
The video tribute, which opened with praise for Gray from Premier Christy Clark, included memories of Gray from two veteran councillors who also decided not to run for re-election this year, Robert Hobson and Andre Blanleil, as well as federal MP Ron Cannan, and local MLAs and B.C. cabinet ministers Norm Letnick and Steve Thomson, as well a regional economic development officer Robert Fine.
In her opening remarks of the video tribute, Clark noted the changes that have occurred in the city since Gray was first elected to council as a then alderman, in 1986 and then as mayor for the first time in 1996.
“But one thing that never changed was you never stopped working to make Kelowna a better place to live,” said the premier.
Gray, who served a total of 16 years on council—12 as mayor, six from from 1996 to 2005 and three from 2011 to 2014, lost the job to former city councillor Sharon Shepherd in 2005. He did not run in 2008 when Shepherd was re-elected but came back to defeat her in a very close vote in 2011.
In his remarks Friday, Gray dwelled mainly on the last three years, praising the eight other members of his council for their ability to work together to get things done for the city.
“The real secret was undisputed chemistry, respect, honesty and trust among the council members,” said Gray. “Courage to do great things was the result.”
He said the council also saw what he did in the importance of partnerships with senior levels of government to get things done becuause they have the money.
“Every time you only have to pay 33 cents on the dollar (because two-thirds of the funding for a project is coming from the province and federal government) it’s a good day at city hall.”
Saying he took a page from former B.C. Premier Bill Bennett, a who represented Kelowna as an MLA in the B.C. Legislature up until the mid-1980s, Gray decided it was time for new leadership at city hall and that’s why he did not seek re-election.
“I didn’t want to die in office,” quipped the 76-year-old, known for his of-the-cuff and often unpredictable remarks.
The outgoing mayor said in addition to his new job chairing the ICBC board, he also wants to spend more time with family and will start with two separate vacations he has already planned for early in the new year.
But that’s not all.
He said he also wants to play more golf, put together a pilot for a new television series and write a book. The book would be a compilation of what he called “little political stories” that he has either been a party to or witnessed during his political career.
The book is to be titled 101 Ways To Cook A Rubber Chicken.
During his thanks to the mayor, Cannan quipped he thought the book should be titled 101 Shades of Gray.
While that got a laugh, the mayor was quick with retort of his own.
“That’ll be the second book,” he said.