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Thelma Johnstone saying goodbye but maintaining Whistler Spirit

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Thelma Johnstone is saying goodbye to Whistler.

After living here for 18 years, putting Whistler on the school board map, keeping Whistler’s future firmly in her sights on council, and charting the Whistler Chamber of Commerce through unprecedented growth, Johnstone is moving to sunny Whiterock and "retiring".

"I am going to miss a lot of people," said Johnstone looking wistfully around her tiny but orderly office at chamber headquarters in Creekside where she is president.

Floor-to-ceiling bookcases are stacked with papers and books, and her desk, alive with paperwork, could tell a thousand stories of the ideas that have come and gone since she joined the chamber in 1985.

With just enough room for a petite Johnstone and her computer behind the desk she may fit the "small is beautiful" idea but she thinks big.

She and other likeminded colleagues created the Whistler Spirit Program in the ’80s, which has been imitated but never equalled.

"I guess of all the chamber has done, I am most proud of that," said Johnstone who has overseen the growth of the chamber from 50 members to 550.

"I was invited to Scotland for example to talk about the Whistler Spirit Program and we’ve had inquiries from just about every ski resort in North America.

"We hear from these people that visitors tell them that they got good service in Whistler."

Johnstone still believes service is one of the keys to success in Whistler and she accepts the resort has not mastered it yet.

"We just feel like we are still on the way," she said.

She also led the drive for creation of the Employment Centre 11 years ago as part of plan to get and keep employees.

Johnstone arrived in Whistler in 1984.

"I came for a rest," she said laughing at the memory. Johnstone had been coming to the resort since the ’70s to ski with her two daughters and son.

In Richmond, her former home, she was chair of the school board and ran a small business.

When Whistler locals found out she had school board experience she was quickly recruited to help put forward Whistler’s concerns.

And in recognition of the work she did on the school board, which included the relocation of Myrtle Philip school, the increase in the number of school board representatives for Whistler, and aggressive lobbying on the school tax issue, she was named Whistler’s citizen of the year in 1988.

"It was such a surprise," said Johnstone, an avid skier who admits to suffering from "Whistler Syndrome" of working too hard to enjoy the resort.

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