PORT McNEILL—Over the past 46 years, a variety of challengers have tried to unseat Gerry Furney from his position in municipal office in a town he literally helped create.
This year, he’s chosen to step aside voluntarily.
“At 81 years of age, I don’t think I’m ready for four more years,” said Furney, referencing the change from three-year terms for municipal elections instituted earlier this year. “I should have been retired already.”
The municipal election season kicked off this week, with the signs of his prospective replacement — current councillors Shirley Ackland and Gaby Wickstrom — sprouting alongside Port McNeill streets overnight Sunday.
Nominations for mayors and councillors in North Island communities, as well as School District 85 Board trustees and Regional District of Mount Waddington area directors, are under way until tomorrow’s 4 p.m. deadline.
Then the campaign begins in earnest, with the election set for Nov. 15.
Furney has been out of office for only two years since being elected as a member of Port McNeill’s first council, in 1966. After serving one term as mayor in the early 1970s, he was defeated by one vote in his bid for re-election. He returned two years later, and has been in the office ever since — a total of 39 years as mayor and 46 in office.
“I was the first one sworn in,” Furney said of that inaugural council in 1966. “They swore us in one by one, in what is now the kitchen of the Dalewood Inn.”
He can still rattle off the names of his fellow councillors from that day, who were sworn in by the deputy minister of North Vancouver Island MLA Dan Campbell. Emil Pazarena, Bob Huddleston Ian Patterson and Furney were joined by Stu Robinson, a logging company roads foreman who became Port McNeill’s first mayor.
“The reason we made him mayor was that he had a bulldozer and a backhoe. He graded the roads before we got any blacktop.”
Furney immigrated from Ireland in 1956 with good friend Tom Murphy, and the two answered an ad looking for loggers.
His civic involvement in Port McNeill began while he was rooming in a logging bunkhouse and attempted to visit the nearby community hall.
“I was told, ‘This isn’t for bunkhouse guys,’” he recalls. “But since we were getting a $1 deduction from our payroll each month for the community hall, this struck me as a very unfair situation.”
So Furney attended the next Community Hall meeting and got himself elected to the committee.
“One of the worst phrases is, ‘They should do this’ or ‘They should do that,’” he said. “‘They’ is you. You need to step up and get involved.”