Just one week after I first heard the news that our leader Kathy Barnett was killed while cycling in New Zealand, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I’ll introduce little Eleanor Beth Mitchell to the world in a future column, but suffice it to say that I’m as proud a father as can be. If I’d known how good it would feel to hold my daughter in my arms and look into her indigo eyes I would have started a family long ago.
It was during the celebration of Kathy’s life on Sunday that I realized how much I owed Kathy and Bob Barnett for that moment. Many of the speakers at the celebration talked about the public and private ways that Kathy personally helped them or the Whistler community, and I would have to consider myself to be Exhibit A.
With a journalism degree in hand but not much in the way of real newspaper experience, the Barnett’s gave me a job as a reporter back in 1999. I’ve tried to repay that trust with hard work and dedication, but in many ways I will always be in their debt.
It was while working as a reporter that I met my future wife, and I was technically working the day we made plans to go out to a movie. To this day we go to see every Rob Schneider film together, no matter how badly it’s panned by critics.
Years later, when a one-bedroom suite came up for rent in a house that belonged to family friends of the Barnetts, Kathy told me about it first — she and Bob lived there in their early years together in Whistler, until the day they could afford a home of their own.
I soon moved in with my future wife, made her my present wife, and we lived in that suite happily until we too were able to afford our first home.
Now that I have a daughter to celebrate I’m continually struck by all the ways that Kathy has helped to clear a path for Eleanor and others from Whistler’s baby boom.
As a founding member of the Community Foundation of Whistler and a staunch supporter of other non-profit organizations, Kathy has helped to build daycares and playgrounds, put books on library shelves, preserve the environment, develop sports and recreation, support arts and literature, and generally fund all the things that make Whistler such a vibrant community for so many of us.
Kathy was also a member of the Minister’s Roundtable on Small Business and the provincial Women’s Enterprise Centre, where she was an example to all ambitious, creative and independent young women, which Eleanor will hopefully become.
Thanks Kathy for everything you’ve done for me, my daughter, and for the community we call home.
And what a community it is. Excellent schools, great parks and playgrounds, infinite opportunities for recreation and exploration, a new library for literary and cultural pursuits, and a social calendar that any town on earth would envy. A whole generation of children has been raised here, and to the credit of Kathy and others, many of them have chosen to stay, or have gone out into the world and decided to come back.
It’s at times like these, when we reflect on what one individual can achieve in the community, that it’s important to remember that all of the things that make Whistler such a great community to live, work and raise a family were made possible by individuals that have donated their time, money and expertise over the years.
For example, the new public library was built by the municipality but with the guidance of a volunteer board of directors. The Whistler Housing Authority, which built the townhouse where I live, was started by a volunteer society.
Our local youth sports teams and programs are coached by volunteers, working within organizations comprised of more volunteers. Every event hosted locally relies on volunteers.
Volunteers run the Whistler Health Care Foundation, which is constantly working to purchase life-saving equipment for the health care centre.
Volunteers also make groups like the Whistler Naturalists, AWARE and the Habitat Improvement Team possible, and help Whistler Community Services Society deliver emergency and social assistance to local families. Until just recently the Whistler Arts Council was entirely run by volunteers.
Volunteers built most of our bike trail network, even if it’s now being maintained by the municipality and the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association, though often with the help of other volunteers.
If we can learn one thing from Kathy, it’s to get involved. Community isn’t something you can buy — it only happens when there are people willing to donate their time to make things happen, and it only lasts as long as our dedication and enthusiasm.
I have Eleanor to inspire me, and before her there was Kathy. What inspires you?