K.C. Hill passed away this week. His is not a name synonymous with the building or shaping of Whistler. There won't be any runs or buildings or bridges named after him, at least not in Whistler. But he was part of the generation of Lower Mainland residents that literally bought into the Whistler dream in the '70s — part of the bedrock that enabled the fledgling ski town to go on to bigger and, arguably, better things.
K.C. was an orthopedic surgeon in Burnaby, among many other things. He grew up in Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan, a setting that forged the "prairie ethos" in him. I believe his interest in politics grew out of frustration with people who didn't perform as well as he felt they should and people who lacked the courage to take a stand.
K.C. never lacked that courage.
He could recite Robert Service poetry from memory, which he did while hiking the Chilkoot Trail a few years ago, and after a drink or two he would sing — better, actually, than people gave him credit for. His voice, whether used for singing or opining, carried.
He was in his early 80s, fighting his second bout with cancer. The details of the last few weeks you can probably imagine. But he skied several times this winter, regardless of the weather. The only "conditions" that mattered for skiing this year were his strength.
Strength was what K.C. exuded. Physical strength, moral strength, strength in his convictions. It led him to become president of the B.C. Medical Association in the 1970s.
I think K.C. and the whole Hill family got into skiing because of my father, who has skied since he was a child. The Hills lived across Buckingham Drive from the Barnetts in Burnaby. K.C. and my father were colleagues and dear friends.
He was a good athlete — his children and grandchildren have all excelled in a variety of sports — but like most people who take up skiing as adults, K.C. lacked the élan that comes with growing up on skis. That hardly slowed him down, though. He would ski anything, muscling his way through powder, moguls or groomers with the same steadfast determination and his own distinctive style. "No guts, no glory" was one of his favourite sayings. General Bullmoose was the nickname a colleague bestowed on him.
K.C. and the Hill family were part of the early collective that believed in Whistler and enabled the leap from a regional ski area to an international resort. He was one of the ones who built a cabin in Whistler in the 1970s, who bought season passes for the whole family, bought equipment for every member of the family, paid for ski lessons.
These were the people who endured the drive up from the Lower Mainland every Friday night, after a long week's work, on what was essentially a paved logging road — regardless of weather. Once here, they got up before dawn on Saturdays and Sundays and made their way to Creekside to get boarding passes for everyone to ride the original gondola — essentially a specified time to stand in line for the only access lift up Whistler Mountain.
They did it so their families could discover the simple, enlightening pleasure of sliding downhill on snow; so they could appreciate the wonders and lessons of the mountains.
Whistler was only one aspect of K.C.'s life. In addition to his professional commitments he gave generously — both time and money — to the Burnaby community and to Burnaby General Hospital. He had a healthy awe — in the sense of respect and wonder — for nature in its various guises. He appreciated sport for the pleasure it could bring but also for the character it could build.
He was also prescient: he thought Roberto Luongo's contract "sucked" two years ago.
One of K.C.'s contributions to Whistler is in front of you right now. He was one of the six people who took major leaps of faith and each put up $5,000 to get Pique started in 1994.
I last talked to him by phone a month ago. I was in the Roundhouse with my father; K.C. was in Burnaby General. He sounded content. He wanted to know how Whistler and Pique were doing.
Loyalty defined K.C. Hill.