OUT OF LEFT FIELD: HAIL TO THE CHIEF

The Chief in one of his many, many roles (in this case, cadet commander, he's second from the right). He's also served as Aboriginal Elder, Saint John Ambulance Brigade Superintentendent, Rotary member ... the list goes on.
The Chief in one of his many, many roles (in this case, cadet commander, he's second from the right). He's also served as Aboriginal Elder, Saint John Ambulance Brigade Superintentendent, Rotary member ... the list goes on.

A good reporter doesn't become emotionally involved in a story – but this one hurts my heart. How to say good-bye to my favourite colleague ever?!?!

It took me six months living and reporting in Castlegar to say, definitively, that there were two people in this community whom you couldn't attack without me responding as if you'd attacked me personally: Kevin Chernoff and Gerry Rempel.

Kevin left us through forces beyond anyone's control, and now Gerry's righteously leaving us (sort of) because he has a life (he'll still be an active member of the fire department, doing Critical Incident Management work, and he remains the Airport Manager).

But he's retiring as The Chief. Sam Lattanzio will take over and, I'm certain, do a most excellent job (Sam is awesome) … but for me, there will only ever be one Chief.

THE Chief.

Like Mayor Lawrence Chernoff said last night at council, “There is no one in this community who hasn't benefited from his years of service.”

I think there are few people in Castlegar without a story of The Chief, but here's my story: When I came here, I was thrown in the deep end. I took over the editorship of the Castlegar Current without ever having spent more than five minutes here just to gas up (unbeknownst to me, my boss really wanted me and my paper to fail, so it was an uphill climb).

I didn't know anyone, and Kevin and The Chief were just blind and hopeful calls, to me. Talk about luck.

The Chief fed me stories, one of the first of which ended up with him being censured for going into a burning building without back-up. At the time, I felt badly for being the person who reported it, but in retrospect, I think The Chief knew exactly what he was doing in telling me about it – as always, he put helping someone else before his own well-being, and that included helping me.

Very shortly later, I had to go to Calgary, and came home to my house on Columbia Avenue to see a six-foot snow-plow pile blocking my driveway. So I did what any self-respecting Albertan would do. I backed up, sped up and took a fast run at it. Leaving my sports car high-centred in my driveway.

Which was not at all humiliating, it being in the most visible place possible (yes, I get that I deserved that).

The Chief drove by, saw my difficulty, and helped me out, earning my eternal gratitude.

That's not to say The Chief has always been easy membership. When my very-recognizable car got stuck in the McDonald's drive-thru, I called him and said, “I'm super embarrassed, what tow-truck can I call to make this quickly go away?”

He said, “Oh, you have to call Stuart Ady, of Ernie's Towing,” and gave me Stuart's number, failing to mention Stuart is a firefighter and was standing right beside him at the time for training night. So when I called and asked Stuart if he could very quietly come help me out, as I was right on the main drag, he said, “Of course!”, and they all showed up in the big fire truck in full turn-out gear with the lights going.

I wanted to die, I was so embarrassed.

And that was just to start.

As I said, The Chief had been giving me stories, and he said there was a firefighter training exercise near Stuart's property (and yes, it now seems stupid that that didn't clue me in, lol). So, trying to make a good impression, I did my hair, put on full make-up (which I never do) and a pretty sundress and showed up, camera in hand.

Next thing I knew, I was the dummy they were carrying up the ladder (did I mention I'm scared of heights?), then The Chief said maybe I'd prefer enclosed space whatchamacallit. I said, “Oh, please God,” because I didn't know any better.

Full turn-out gear, which is sweltering and weighs more than I do, carrying an ax that weighs another bajillion pounds, crawling around in the dark (it was maybe 42 degrees that day).

I came out soaked with sweat, with raccoon eyes from the make up, dress and hair plastered to my skin.

I never want to see an ax again.

But The Chief's coup-de-grace was the council meeting – I experimented with leaving my young son at home long enough for meetings he didn't want to attend, but I told everyone that I had to keep my cell phone on, in case something went wrong.

Months of meetings went by, no problem.

Then, one night, I think it was the urban chicken meeting, the audience was packed, and my phone rang, while I was up in front at the media table. That was embarrassing, but okay, I tried to get up and out of the room fast enough to not be a distraction. Problem was, my boot heel got caught in my purse, which was beside my chair, so I was hopping around, and the contents of my purse went flying everywhere. I had residents politely handing me my tampons back.

Not at all embarrassing.

Was it my kid calling? Of course not. The Chief had dialed his phone under the table he sits at during council meetings, the diabolical sun-uv-a- … well, you get my point. LOL.

And he didn't even grin – totally straight-faced while everyone else laughed. He's the king of dead pan humour.

And then a kid, about the age of my kid, went missing, and I joined the search party. And that night, went the sun went down, and we all had to go home, I thought going home to a hot supper and warm bed was the ultimate in evil, if there was a child out there in a ditch somewhere, waiting for us to come save him, and I called The Chief, and I cried and cried, and he listened.

That was the first of maybe a hundred times he listened, and was there.

And that's the thing about The Chief. He's ALWAYS there. He is one of the kindest, gentlest spirits I have ever known.

He's been an absolute joy to work with, and I know for-sure I'm not the only person who will miss him terribly.

It's the end of an era, Chief. But I love you, I loved working with you, and I'm glad I got to be a part of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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