Garry Watson, a lawyer and member of the Whistler community since the early 1960s, was honoured as Citizen Of The Year at the Whistler Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday, July 21.
Watson accepted the award in front of 120 luncheon attendees at the Westin Resort with his trademark modesty, remarking that being added to the list of winners past puts him "in great company."
The award consists of a plaque and gifts of a one-year WAVE Transit pass and a reserved spot in the underground parking lot at the Telus Conference Centre. The parking spot was reinstated this year by the RMOW after a hiatus in 2004/05. Watson said while he appreciates the parking spot he is happy to take the bus.
The Citizen of the Year award is yet another honour for Watson this year, following his recognition by the provincial government with a prestigious Community Achievement Award this past March. The Community Achievement Award honours the spirit, dedication, imagination and contribution of outstanding British Columbians to their community. Watson was one of 38 people across the province to receive the award in 2005, and the only Whistler recipient.
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce, of which Watson is a founding member, has been awarding the Citizen of the Year Award since 1969.
Watson was nominated by Florence Petersen, Citizen of the Year in 1986, and husband Andy Petersen with supporting letters from Maureen Douglas of the 2010 Olympic Organizing Committee, Marnie Simon of the Whistler Health Care Foundation, Tourism Whistler chair Rick Clare, Mayor Hugh OReilly and past Chamber of Commerce President John Nadeau.
Also nominated this year were Jane Clifford, Heather Clifford, Thomas Cole, Jim Cook, Ralph Forsyth, John Hewson, Barb Leigh, Jessie Pendygrasse, John Rae, Jane Reid, Joan Richoz, Laurie Vance and Bernie Lalor-Morton.
This years selection committee included past Citizens of the Year Steve Milstein (2004) and Gordon Leidal (2003) as well as Councillor Ken Melamed and Keith Bennett from the RMOW, and Bill Janyk and Wendell Moore from the two local Rotary service clubs.
After experiencing Whistler for the first time on a summer mountaineering trip in 1961, Watson became active in the area, building the first cabin in what is now known as Creekside. He was around when the first chairlift opened in 1966, chaired the community planning committee for the 1968 Olympic bid and has watched a world class mountain resort rise out of what was a dumpsite in his backyard.
Watson also has a place in Whistlers political history, logging five years as an alderman on the first three Whistler councils while juggling his Vancouver law practice. His council experience culminated in 1980 with the official opening of Whistler Village, which he has deemed his "proudest achievement" from that era.
Watson was also made a Free Man of the Resort Municipality of Whistler for his pioneering work in Whistler.
He moved to Whistler permanently in the late 1980s with wife Anne Popma, a vocal advocate for the arts in Whistler.
Since then, Watson has served on the boards of several local organizations including the Whistler Health Care Foundation, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the Whistler Valley Housing Society, and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. He has also participated in every Olympic bid committee from 1968 to the present and in the strategy committees, which formed the background of the Whistler 2020 Plan a guide for Whistlers development over the next 15 years.
And, in the opinion of many in attendance last Thursday, the Citizen of the Year award couldnt have happened to a nicer guy.
"Garry is modest, does everything in low-key and doesnt look for glory or special recognition," Petersen wrote in her letter of nomination.
Squinting at the plaque as it reflected off the ceiling lights last Thursday, Watson smiled and remarked: "look at this, all my good friends are on here."
With files from Alison Taylor