PORT HARDY—Civic leaders and colleagues were stunned this week by the sudden death Wednesday of Mayor Bev Parnham, who had appeared to be recovering from a life-threatening infection five months earlier.
“All our condolences go out to her family,” Deputy Mayor Jessie Hemphill said. “She always talked about them in council. It was all so sudden; it’s been remarkable how much strength she’d shown.”
Hemphill joined a chorus of outpourings of sympathy and condolences to her family after Parnham, the second-term mayor, died May 21.
A celebration of life for Mayor Parnham has been scheduled for Friday, May 30, beginning at 3:30 p.m. at Port Hardy Civic Centre. In lieu of flowers, her family asks that contributions be made to the District of Port Hardy to go toward a leadership scholarship to be given to a female Port Hardy Secondary School student in June, 2015.
Parnham, 62, had been struck by sudden illness at Christmas last year, resulting in surgery and the amputation of her left leg. She had appeared to be on the mend, attending regular physiotherapy sessions and had returned to attend council meetings since late March.
In recent weeks, she had been in good spirits while greeting both Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon and federal MP John Duncan on their respective visits to the North Island,
“Beyond losing a great ally and community advocate, many of us have also lost a good friend,” Duncan said in a written statement. “It is a very personal loss for me, and serves as a reminder of how important it is to appreciate our family and our community, and to conduct our lives with honour, integrity and the spirit of service.
“Bev was an outstanding British Columbian and a great Canadian. She will be greatly missed.”
Born and raised in Vancouver, Mayor Parnham completed high school in the Comox Valley before moving to Port Hardy in 1978. She was first elected to municipal Council in 1989 and served on the Board of the Regional District of Mount Waddington, as well as on many local, regional and provincial committees.
She leaves three daughters, in Port McNeill, Nanaimo and Regina, SK, as well as six grandchildren ranging from 18 months to 13 years of age.
Council is scheduled to meet Monday, May 26. Jeff Long, director of corporate and development services, said that with municipal elections scheduled for this fall, a by-election will not be required to fill Parnham’s spot on council. Hemphill’s term as deputy mayor
runs out May 31, and coun. Debbie Huddlestan will step in as deputy mayor at that time.
Huddlestan is the widow of former councillor and RDMW board chair Al Huddlestan, who died in March of 2013 following a battle with cancer. The loss of Parnham just 14 months after Huddlestan’s passing is a particularly painful blow to Hemphill, who was the youngest member elected to council in 2011.
“I’ve known Bev since I was in high school, and Al was my neighbour since I was in Grade 3,” said Hemphill. “When I was elected I came in thinking what a wonderful opportunity I had to mentor under two pinnacles of public service in the community.
“This is the last council that will have had that mentorship,” Hemphill added. “For that, I’m grateful, but shaken. I thought Bev would be in the mayor’s chair for a long time.”
During her two terms as mayor, Parnham fought for increased access to health care for Port Hardy residents and for the preservation of ferry service, and before her death saw the passage of a new Official Community Plan and Zoning Bylaw, green energy initiatives and the formation of a community forest in partnership with Port Alice and Port McNeill.
“It has been a great privilege to work with Bev for more than 10 years,” said District of Port Hardy CAO Rick Davidge. “Her enthusiasm for economic development and community sustainability has helped to move the community forward during its difficult transition after the close of the BHP mine.
“I am honoured to have been her colleague and friend,” he continued. “She will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”
A statement from the District said, “Bev continued to put her enthusiasm for Port Hardy to work to improve the local economy by encouraging investment, and by providing the infrastructure and services necessary to encourage jobs and improve quality of life for residents.”
The statement also included a message from family members: “Mayor Parnham’s family would like to thank the community for their continued support over the last five months during Bev’s brief illness. Her greatest joy and proudest moments were spending time with her three daughters, Kendra Parnham-Hill, Brittany Exner, and Leah Kos, and her six grandchildren, large extended family and many close friends.
“The District will respect the wishes of Bev’s family and will be in contact with them in terms of information that is released to the media and public alike. This will include the date and time for any service that may be conducted.”