She was mayor of Alberni for 18 years and an MLA for four years, so as an observer of the current election Gillian Trumper could be considered something of an expert.
Born in Croyden, England “many years ago”, the widowed mother of four was one of two daughters. Her sister still lives in England.
Trumper’s earliest childhood memory has to do with the Second World War. The family lived near an airfield that was often the target of German bombers.
“We used to sit in the cupboard under the stairs during the bombings and then go and pick up shrapnel on the street after it was over,” Trumper said.
“Our neighbour’s house took a direct hit and the family — the children we played with — were killed.”
The family moved around London a lot and Trumper attended several different schools. She enjoyed Latin, which was taught by a teacher who she still remembers, Mrs. Lansdowne.
“She was wonderful and was patient with people who struggled with the course,” Trumper said.
After high school graduation, Trumper attended nursing school for four years then worked as a nurse in London and Denmark before coming to Canada with her then-boyfriend Michael (who she eventually married).
The couple lived in Alberta, which is where their children were born, for four years. Her late husband liked the sea and wanted to sail so they set their sights on living in B.C.
“An opportunity came up in Port Alberni and we came out,” she said.
Trumper first saw the Alberni Valley on a warm July day in 1969. “It looked as spectacular as it could ever have looked,” she said.
Trumper’s first job in the Valley was teaching swimming lessons at Echo Centre. She worked at a series of jobs and served as a school board trustee before she set her sights higher.
She had served one term on city council when, in 1984, she ran for and won the mayor’s seat, defeating incumbent Paul Reitsma. She would go on to hold the seat for 17 years.
Trumper’s tenure as mayor occurred during the tumultuous ’80s and ’90s when there was a downturn in the economy and subsequent recession. And then there were strikes.
The biggest challenge facing council was “trying to get other levels of government to notice Alberni, and getting people to invest here,” she said.
Trumper is 10 years beyond the mayor’s office and six years from being the Valley’s MLA. These days she busies herself with various community activities such as Woodtech 21.
Civic politics in the Valley has been long male dominated and Trumper often found herself among the few females involved.
The time requirement placed demands on her family, who were supportive of her involvement, she said.
And women had to be better than good to earn respect. “A majority of women who have been on council have been good,” she said.
Only once did she not get a position because of her gender. “Someone didn’t want to work with a woman and didn’t want a woman running the show,” she said.
She doesn’t miss politics per se, but she does miss the people that made the politics. “I miss the people that I worked with, and I worked with an array of talented people,” Trumper said. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t like the people.”
Trumper has a lot of advice for the current candidates running for council. “It’s a lot more work than you think and you have to take the criticism along with the few thanks you get,” she said.
Cutting your teeth on tough issues that require unpopular decisions isn’t a question of if, but of when. “You have to believe that the decisions you made were right,” Trumper said.
“They’re not always right, and you have to live with that.”