PORT McNEILL—Family, friends and town staff were not about to let Gerry Furney’s new status as B.C. longest-serving politician pass quietly.
Furney arrived at council chambers expecting a quiet swearing-in to begin his 35th year as Mayor of the Town, but instead was greeted by cheers from an overflow crowd, bagpipe music and a giant sheet cake marking the occasion.
“You’re a very sick crowd,” said Furney, who seemed surprised but quickly regained his equilibrium by joking with the crowd. “I’m shocked. I thought we were just going to have a five-minute meeting. Utterly, utterly ridiculous.”
Furney was elected last month along with new council members Grant Anderson and Chris Sharpe and returning councillors Shirley Ackland and Gaby Wickstrom.
After Furney made his way to the centre of the long table at the head of the room and sat, there was an expectant pause.
Furney removed some papers from a manila envelope and looked up at what may have been the largest crowd to grace the chamber for a council meeting.
“Obviously, you’re expecting me to say something,” he said. “I’m speechless. Very unusual for an Irish person. What I want to know is, who is responsible for this mess?”
Ackland replied that it was a team effort, and pointed out the evening was an auspicious occasion.
“This is history tonight, that you’re going to be sworn in as the longest-serving mayor in British Columbia. Here in Port McNeill,” Ackland said as the crowd again applauded.
Town administrator Al Sweet then rose to swear in Furney before swearing in the councillors as a group.
After the swearing-in, Furney got serious for a minute.
“Before we officially call the meeting to order, take a look around you and see what Port McNeill is made of,” he said. “Good people, who it’s been a pleasure to serve as your mayor, and before that, as a municipal councillor.”
Furney began his public service in the 1960s and served nine years on council before winning his first mayoral race in 1973. In 1975 he was defeated by a single vote for re-election, but regained the office in 1977 and has enjoyed an unbroken run since.
The mood in chambers before Furney’s arrival resembled that of a surprise party. The Mayor is well-known for arriving just moments before the start of Port McNeill’s twice-monthly council meetings, and a standing-room-only crowd of well-wishers parked down the street and assembled early. As Furney entered and marched across the floor upstairs, the crowd hushed in anticipation as he entered, it erupted in applause supported by a brief bagpipe serenade from Dale Drysdale.
Furney took some time after the swearing-in ceremony to recognize old friends and former associates in attendance, including former councillors and former town administrator James Craven, who was originally hired in 1968 and who traveled from the South Island to attend the event.
Furney also introduced the new council, noting Ackland assumes the post of Deputy Mayor.
Another pause followed but Furney, in typical fashion, effectively filled the void.
“That having been said, there’s got to be cake,” he said, kicking off the next round of the party that delayed the start of the official council meeting for nearly 50 minutes.