BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A class act

It was my family’s first Christmas in the house we had struggled for so long to purchase. One morning as I prepared to head off to work, a small gift was found on the doorstep.

And they kept coming for the next 12 days. Each morning provided a sense of excitement for my daughters as they waited to see what would be unwrapped next.

It was obvious that someone was paying tribute to that seasonal tune, The Twelve Days of Christmas, but who was responsible was a complete mystery.

That was until Carol Williams showed up at the door on the final day with a card. It had been her and husband Verne who, under the cover of darkness, had been sneaking into our yard to ensure our first holiday in our first home was memorable.

My kids still refer to Carol as our secret Santa.

I first met Carol 20 years ago when I was still relatively new to town and had been assigned the Vernon Winter Carnival beat.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to speak almost every day as she brought me up to speed on the latest happenings. Never once did she sound bored by the questions. In fact, her enthusiasm was contagious and even after all of these years, when I think of the annual festival,  an image of Carol wearing Carnival blue with a white snowflake logo always comes to mind.

I would often come across Carol as she power-walked her way through my neighbourhood. Not wanting to interupt her routine, she would generally wave and say hello but continue her pace. But at one point in the early fall of 1999, she stopped.

She was contemplating running for a seat on Coldstream council and she wanted to get my thoughts. We had a long chat and I made her aware of the downside to public office — including having to deal with nosy reporters. But based on my past dealings with her, I encouraged her to go for it. She topped the polls.

Carol probably attended more meetings than almost any other politician but there always seemed to be a sense of insecurity — that she felt she didn’t have as much to add as others at the table. But for me, Carol was a breath of fresh air. She would ask questions the average person would want to know. It set her apart from some of her colleagues who probably didn’t know the answers but concerns about image prevented them from raising their hands.

Carol and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye and issues like the extension of sewer and the sports complex tested our relationship. But those situations were always short-lived and she’d soon be asking for updates on my kids.

One thing Carol and I shared in common was a love for reading and particularly for libraries. Perhaps more so than any other elected official, she understood the importance libraries play in our community, and particularly for young children.

As chairperson of Okanagan Regional Library, she wasn’t satisfied just to be a figure-head. She wanted to understand the inner-workings of the agency, and that led to her visiting all 29 branches — from Princeton to Golden and from the North Shuswap to Osoyoos.

Her passion was so contagious that she inspired me to start my own adventure and tour all of the branches. Often as I was walking out the door with books in hand, I would phone Carol and brag about my latest achievement.

There are still four branches I haven’t been to, and my goal is to now visit them in honour of a special person.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to call Carol when my mission is accomplished, but no doubt there will be a smile on her face.