No matter which way you look at it, Gord McKeever was a trailblazer. You could take that literally, of course, as the man whose tireless dedication was the driving force behind the Sea to Sky Trail. Or figuratively, as a thoughtful leader who put the needs of the community first and helped usher the resort through the challenging years before the Olympics. It was with shock and sadness that Whistler reacted to McKeever's passing on July 5, three days after he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 62.
"He was almost like a founding father," said friend Tim Wake, who sat on council with McKeever in the mid-2000s. "It's just a huge, huge loss."
Born in Hamilton, Ont., McKeever had the typical army-brat upbringing, never sticking to one place for too long. That is until he settled in Whistler in 1981.
"He always used to say that he expected my sister and I to move away because (Whistler) was his paradise and we had to go find ours," said daughter Meghan McCoach. "I think he really liked the terrain, the attitude, the community feel ... He knew if you wanted something done and you could find the likeminded people to get it done, it would happen. He really loved that about the town."
McKeever's passion for the community touched everything he did, whether it was in his managerial work in the hotel sector, as board chair of the Whistler Housing Authority, or as a dogged councillor between 2002 and 2008.
"Whistler needs more people like Gord McKeever. He left his fingerprints all over town," said former councillor Nick Davies. "He always took a really thoughtful, measured approach towards things. He wasn't a guy who would posture based on his dogmatic background... He was just interested in doing what was right for the community."
Sometimes that meant McKeever had to make difficult decisions, such as when he helped persuade council to vote against a proposal from London Drugs to bring a 6,000-sq.-ft. store to the village, or when he spoke out against making the Whistler Sliding Centre a permanent facility.
"We joked about how the day the Olympics were over we were going to put the sliding centre on eBay," Wake said with a laugh. "He was one of those people who truly served the community in the roles he took on."
Most recently, McKeever served as the project manager for the Sea to Sky Trail, a 180-km route that will link the Pacific Ocean in the south to the Coast Mountains in the north. A longstanding obsession of his — "I heard him talk about that trail for decades," said McCoach — it's fair to say the project would likely never have come to light without him.
"I can't imagine the trail without Gordon," said Allison Macdonald, trail coordinator for the Squamish Lillooet Regional District. "Losing Gord is losing our biggest advocate. It's going to be difficult. But now we're a little bit stronger and we want to get it completed because that's what he would've wanted."
But among all of McKeever's passions, first and foremost was the love he had for his family: his wife and best friend Libby, and his daughters, Meghan and Katelyn.
"I think he'd want to be remembered as a community man, an outdoorsy guy, and a family man," McCoach said.
A Celebration of Life will be held July 23 at Whistler Secondary School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.