It is almost 60 years since we last met. We are three old men with wavering memories when it comes to dates, but crystal clear memories when it comes to events.
We can remember it was 1957 when a group of friends organized a farewell party for me on the eve of my departure from the rain-soaked Alberni Valley to Penticton in the desert-dry Okanagan Valley.
It was in May of ’57 that I became managing editor of the Penticton Herald with the responsibility of taking the newspaper daily in the fall of the year.
The other two members of this trio of 80 to 90 year olds recollect a momentous farewell party on the shores of Sproat Lake in a cabin kindly loaned for the occasion by Alberni Mayor Ben Wright.
Wondering who forms this memory testing trio? Thought you might: There’s Bob Thorp, 82, a 25-year veteran with the RCMP. His first assignment was to the City of Alberni detachment. He was a 19-year-old constable, the “rookie” on a four man force. Readers with any knowledge of Vancouver Island will remember that in the 1950s Alberni and Port Alberni were rival cities with their own city council, their own mayor, their own RCMP detachment.
After 25 years with the force Bob “retired” with the rank of Staff Sergeant and became a security officer for a bank. After 40 years tracking cheque bouncers and other illegal financial manipulators he retired again and settled in Tsawwassen.
Next is Jim Sawyer, in his late 80s. We first met when he was a junior of juniors at Nanaimo City Hall and I was a fledgling sports editor, sports reporter, columnist, court reporter and spare time features writer. Jim was coach of a young lacrosse team. I can’t remember if they ever won a championship, but I can remember the years I was being educated in the sport and also learning about basic city administration.
Jim climbed the administration ladder with a promotion to Alberni where he became city clerk. Shortly after the two cities amalgamated in the 1960s to become Port Alberni, he assumed the role of city manager. He held that position until he retired a few decades later. He never left the Valley – except on extended holidays and for duties as President of Alberni Rotary.
So, with all three players accounted for, we decided to convene in the Valley of our professional youth and remember what we learned from each other in the process of growing. Over the years I have often referred to my coming of age as a political reporter in the boiler room of the old Alberni City Hall where I would join the mayor and his administrator for a post meeting review of events.
I learned, and never forgot, that more decisions are made in boiler rooms, or their equivalent, than are ever made in a formal council chamber.
At the same time I was getting a closer look at police work in a small detachment in a small community where everybody seemed to know everybody and crime was the same as in a big city, although not as voluminous. Bob Thorp and his fellow officers allowed me a detailed look at their work load and a close up look at police work.
I have never lost my respect for the RCMP, a respect the Alberni officers earned. In later years and not so long ago colleagues and readers would call me “a cop lover.” I regarded it as a compliment because having seen them at work I knew then and know now that they stand between me and the ever growing darkness in the world.
Moving this ramble along, Thorp caught a 7 a.m. ferry on Monday, October 3. We drove to Alberni with one stop at the Shady Rest coffee shop in Qualicum for lunch. After lunch we cut across the Island from east coast to west where Sawyer and wife played host and we started down a long lane of memories.
On Tuesday from breakfast to bed time the trail of memories continued with Sawyer providing a long tour of the Valley with Thorp and me requiring patient explanations because once familiar landscapes have long since been replaced by the ever expanding city.
On Wednesday morning we had breakfast, climbed in Thorp’s car and drove home, over the Beaufort Mountains and, of course, the Malahat Drive which is rapidly being ruined as a scenic drive by concrete barriers and mini-fences. The politicians say it’s all for safety.
A dozen RCMP officers posted from one end of the ‘Hat to the other could have made the mountain road a lot safer at half the cost and not spoiled the beauty of the highway we had travelled in our younger years.
In three days, we had covered three life journeys. By golly it felt good to go back wandering through those years when we were just starting to learn what life was all about – and to confirm what we had always known but sometimes forget – strong friendships stand the test of time.
And now, well past 80, that’s a good feeling.