BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A man of the people

Cherryville's Eugene Foisy has defined the public in public servant

If a politician draws a crowd, it’s likely to heckle or lynch him.

The public is increasingly cynical of elected officials, and that’s not unexpected given the HST fiasco in B.C., the Senate scandals in Ottawa or the antics of Rob Ford.

But, then again, there’s Eugene Foisy.

About 100 gathered at the Cherryville Community Hall Saturday to pay tribute to Foisy, who is retiring after 20 years as the community’s Regional District of North Okanagan director.

“He’s made a difference and not many of us get to make a difference,” said Gay Jewitt, Whitevalley Community Resource Centre executive director.

Jewitt tried to convince Foisy to sit on committees for her Lumby-based group, but she learned quickly that he had his priorities.

“He would say, ‘Places to go, people to see in Cherryville.’ I know how loyal he was,” she said.

And Foisy went out of his way to make himself available.

“We could always give you a call and you would find out what we needed to know,” said Lynne Frerichs, Cherryville Community Club president.

But Foisy went beyond the trappings of a politician. He wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves, including when the heating system at the community hall froze.

“Eugene brought over heaters to help melt the ice,” said Frerichs.

Some glimmer of Foisy’s future surfaced 56 years ago when he was elected community club president. He was 16-years-old and, while his tender age didn’t conform with provincial rules, it showed the respect he already held among residents.

“Eugene’s always been a leader,” said Ernie Laviolette, a friend of 60 years who has tromped around the backcountry with Foisy.

“It was Eugene who picked the campsite, picked the menu for supper and cooked it.”

Foisy’s accomplishments have been many, including the community forest, the water stewards, the outdoor skating rink, high-speed Internet and raising Cherryville’s profile on a variety of issues such as logging on Cherry Ridge.

“Victoria knows where Cherryville is and it’s because of Eugene,” said Hank Cameron, who is taking over as electoral area director.

“He’s left Cherryville in a lot better shape.”

Around the RDNO board table, Foisy is considered a leader.

“He was a stable influence. He had definite ideas and if there were issues, he came up with something that made sense,” said Rick Fairbairn, board vice-chairperson.

“He was the first one to put up his hand and say, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ He brought fiscal responsibility and common sense,” added Bob Fleming, BX-Swan Lake director.

It wasn’t uncommon for a visitor to RDNO to question why Foisy didn’t speak much as if it reflected on his abilities. However, while some politicians love to hear themselves talk and will dominate discussions, Foisy’s approach was different. When he spoke, it was because he had something to say.

“He’s a quiet man of dignity and grace,” said Rob Sawatzky, Vernon’s mayor.

Typical of Foisy, he was humble and tried to sidestep all of the adulation Saturday.

“It’s never one person. It’s a whole community that makes things happen. It’s a pleasure to be part of this community,” he said.

I first met Foisy when he announced he was running for director. Since then, I have watched him evolve from a greenhorn to a veteran at the board table.

He often bristled at bureaucracy and that’s obvious in the annual photograph of the RDNO board. Other men are in suits and ties, while Foisy’s in a collared shirt or a sweater. It says everything you need to know about him. He is comfortable with who he is and he truly reflects the people he represents.

Foisy has defined the public in public servant.