The announcement came quickly at the conclusion of a council meeting last fall: someone suggested that outgoing mayor Ken McRae and city councillor Kenn Whiteman be granted Freedom of the City for all the work they have done serving their community. Council voted unanimously in favour of the honour.
Wednesday at an event at Echo Centre packed with family, friends and colleagues, the pair made it official.
Freedom of the City is the highest honour the city can bestow, MC Charles Mealey said.
Whiteman was humble when talking about the evening prior to the festivities. “I’m still kind of shocked that I’m even here,” he said. “There are a lot more people out there more worthy of this honour than me.”
Whiteman only served two terms on city council, but he has spent the better part of two decades serving youth through recreation. At one time, Whiteman ran the Gyro Park programs; later this year he will be installed as a member of the Gyro Club. “It’s interesting how what goes around, comes around,” he said.
Mealey, Russell Dyson and Scott Kenny split MCing duties. Dyson spoke of the social web McRae wove during his tenure as mayor, and thanked him for using that web of knowledge and contacts for the good of Port Alberni.
Kenny spoke of the passion both freemen share for their community. Whiteman thanked the city workers and others who supported him in his political endeavors.
McRae, roasted by former city clerk Dyson, said there were always stories to be shared from his job.
“It’s been the best years of my life, being the mayor of Port Alberni,” he said.
Congratulatory letters were read out, people were invited to speak at an open mic and members of each man’s family came up to talk about their pride in their respective parent, grandparent or brother.
Tom McEvay, also a community leader, spoke about the social capital both McRae and Whiteman bring to the table. “Yes, we need our mills, we need our employment. But if we don’t have people like these two gentlemen, we don’t have a community. Both these gentlemen have done a tremendous amount for this community. They’re great ambassadors of our community.”