With death of Bob Gillespie, community loses long-time leader

Long-time Saanich councillor, advocate for farming dies at 82.

Bob Gillespie last November.

Saanich Coun. Leif Wergeland laughs as he recalls the time his good friend Bob Gillespie filled in for him at the Capital Regional District board table.

Gillespie, known widely for his outspoken nature as a Saanich councillor, was a meeting stand-out that day and his passionate statements and body language were then detailed in news coverage of the meeting. Only the actions weren’t attributed to Gillespie, rather accidentally to Wergeland, whose name tag sat before the councillor in his regular seat among CRD directors.

Gillespie immediately called out Wergeland for benefitting from his charisma. It was a news gaffe that the two delighted in and it still brings a smile to Wergeland’s face in the week following Gillespie’s death on Sept. 25.

“When Bob spoke, he spoke with passion,” Wergeland said. “He had an ability through his personality to work with people of all political stripes and he was respected for that. Even though they didn’t necessarily agree, he was able to work with them. He had his views and some very, very strong opinions at times.”

Gillespie lived his entire life in Saanich, serving on council from 1990 until 2008. He died at 82.

Wergeland first met Gillespie through their time together on council and continued to meet near weekly ever since.

“Over the years we drank a lot of coffee at Tim Hortons and tried to solve some of the world’s problems – talked about family and sports and community involvement,” he said. “What was neat about him was that he was a straight forward uncomplicated person and he’d give his opinion on how how he felt whether he was in the majority or the minority.”

Gillespie was known in many capacities, as the owner of Gillespie Electric, an outspoken councillor and an advocate for local food production. He was instrumental in bringing in the wholesale water rate for farmers, believing that there as no point to protecting farmlands if farmers couldn’t afford to farm them.

“He’ll be fondly remembered by the Saanich community,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. “He had his own brand of politics and policies. He wasn’t afraid to stand by himself sometimes, but he spoke from the heart and always tried to keep a sense of humour.”

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham knew Gillespie best for his work within the agricultural community after having first met him during her days as farmer and a commissioner of the Peninsula Agricultural Commission, on which Gillespie was the representative from Saanich council.

“We really hit it off because he really wanted to see younger people getting into farming,” Popham said. “He was always very supportive and he inspired me because he never seemed to give up.”

Though Gillespie was non-partisan, he backed the politician based on her commitment to farming, she said.

“Even though I’m 43 years old, he would always say, ‘You’re doing a good job, kid,’” Popham said. “He was always at the events that I held and seeing his face in the crowd, seeing him smile and give kind of a reassuring look, it was very sweet and I’m going to miss him a lot.”

“Good ol’ Bob,” Leonard said, will be remembered in many capacities, from his charitable work and determined and sometimes stubborn presence on council, to his history of hijinks as a young boy growing up in Saanich.

“There are different parts to Bob, different stages of his life, that the community will always be fond of,” Leonard added.

Gillespie is survived by his son Doug, daughter Susan Thackeray, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“Bob was just a great guy to have as a friend,” Wergeland said.

A public celebration of Gillespie’s life is planned for 2 p.m., Oct. 12, at the Church of the Nazarene, 4277 Quadra St. All are welcome. For details contact 250-888-6490.

nnorth@saanichnews.com