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Statesman like and straight spoken, but with a common touch, he was very popular, earned respect, and was always the affable gentleman.

By Joan Little

March 4th, 2022

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Walter Mulkewich , former mayor of Burlington, died Monday, leaving our city with a big hole in its heart.

I first met Walter around 1970. I knew him by reputation – all good. He was known as a solid individual, forward thinking, and well educated – a former Oakville high school teacher of history and geography, and later a business man. He had been active in the community and his church, taking on the tough jobs, and getting them done. He’d also run for the NDP, faring very respectably in Tory blue Burlington.

Much credit goes to his late wife, Bev, whom he met at the age of 16, They were childhood sweethearts who became soul mates, both with strong character, both exceedingly smart and capable – adventurous, even. Their three daughters – Sharie, Jane and Miriam were close knit, and each has excelled in her world.

They loved traveling, the outdoors, and adventurous trips. That started early. Bev and Walter had talked about seeing northen areas, and in 1968 he accepted a one-year teaching assignment in Inuvik, in the Arctic.

When I was elected in Ward 2 in 1973, I didn’t know them, but knew of them. A year or two later, I met Walter, was impressed, and urged him to run for council, but suspect he’d already thought of it. In those days it was a part-time job. I think the salary was $5,200 a year, plus about the same amount extra if you sought the city/regional seat – hardly a big money-maker!

In 1976, he won in Ward 1, defeating an incumbent. He had a commanding, yet gentle presence, and was a great orator, always in the vanguard of thinking. In those pre-internet days nomination day was exciting. City staff used to mount easels in the Brant Street City Hall window, and post and update candidate lists. Traditionally candidates gathered there at 4:00 to see who was running, and where (because some registered at the last minute). We two couples sometimes stayed downtown for a convivial dinner afterwards.

My husband Lloyd Allingham died suddenly in 1978, and Walter was the first colleague on our doorstep. I remarried in 1981, and the couples friendship resumed. After I retired from council in 1988, Walter frequently dropped in on his way home from City Hall.

Walter Mulkewich with Stephen Lewis – both gifted orators.

There’s a story connected with his 1985 re-election. Local Tories persuaded George Harrington to run against him. (George was Mayor when I was elected, but defeated in 1976 by Burlington’s first woman mayor, Mary Munro). You have to know the city’s culture of that time – predominately Tory, predominately male. But Walter surprised all, retaining his seat with 78 per cent of the vote! The ‘Old Boys’ network was losing ground.

In 1991 Roly Bird announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Walter considered Roly a friend, and wouldn’t run against him, but this changed things. Walter stopped by to say he was contemplating running for Mayor. Would we help? We both offered to do anything needed.

He asked me to be campaign manager. I told him I lacked real campaign experience, so was hesitant. (I’d only run two campaigns in my 15 years, the rest were acclamations). He said he’d guide me, and assembled a crackerjack team, garnering support far and wide. Working with so many talented people with the same mission was stimulating. When asked today what I think my biggest contribution to the city was, it was helping elect the city’s best mayor!

Bev was his biggest supporter, and it was a joy to watch them in those nail-biting days – one day optimistic, the next worried. Two noteworthy opponents – one a councillor – were both Conservatives in Tory Burlington, but Walter won. His campaign was based on two principles: environmental protection and fiscal accountability. As expected, his opponents used the “NDP socialist” strategy, but by then he’d been on council 15 years, and proven his mettle.

Statesmanlike, and straight spoken, but with a common touch, he was very popular, earned respect, and was always the affable gentleman. Non partisan, he was admired by colleagues and staff, many of whom became lasting friends. He established the first seniors’ advisory committee.

Very thoughtful, he researched issues and new ideas thoroughly. When he met with developers, there was always a staff member present.

Why did he want the mayor’s job? Garbage! Halton Region had been looking for a landfill site for years – a very costly exercise that required looking at the entire region, then eliminating areas for different factors, like transportation, location, water table, agricultural capability, etc.

Regional staff finally recommended a preferred site – Site A on North Service Road, with Site F (on Tremaine Road in Milton) the runner-up.

The Burlington contingent on Regional council was able to convince a majority of colleagues to support them. This would go to a hearing. If we lost, we’d be back to square one, with no site.

Meantime Halton’s garbage was being shipped to New York State. How long would that last? For the minor cost difference, better to take both sites to the hearing.

Walter had led an environmental committee examining issues on Site A, and was convinced it posed more environmental problems than Site F. He was proven right. Site F (the current site) was found to be superior.

He won reelection as mayor handily in 1994, but in 1997 dropped by with bad news. He’d been diagnosed with Leukemia, and advised not to run. And things worsened. Bev was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and deteriorated quickly until her untimely death in 1998, which devastated him.

In 2015 he wrote an autobiographical book, primarily for family. It was never available publicly, so I treasure my copy. It begins when his parents emigrated from Byelorussia, and farmed near Waterford. He was born in 1940, met Bev in 1956, and began their life journeys.

His girls held a 75th birthday party for him. By then my husband had died and I was delighted that former councillor Linda Pugsley, her husband Stewart and I were invited – the only ‘political’ guests. Linda, Walter and I were part of a small group who, until Covid, met monthly for lunch to discuss current affairs.

Walter sold their lovely Aldershot home last year, moved to a retirement home, and I saw a change in him. This is a huge loss for the city. Would-be candidates will miss him too, because many, many sought his advice on how to be an effective candidate and councillor. While I’ve lost a good friend, Burlington has lost a great ambassador.

The funeral is scheduled, (by invitation only because of Covid) on Monday at 10:00, with visitation Sunday. Arrangements are by Smith’s Funeral Home on Brant Street.

 

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3 comments to Statesman like and straight spoken, but with a common touch, he was very popular, earned respect, and was always the affable gentleman.

  • Ray Rivers

    Nice article Joan. I too worked on that campaign for Walter as mayor. He was a good friend even if we differed from time to time on matters politic. It was in 1997 after I had purchased a property just out of the city that Walter approached to see if I’d be interested in running to replace him. We met periodically after that and remained good friends. I’ll miss him and the emptiness of knowing he’s gone.

  • Jacqueline Z Stoddart

    I was an admirer of Walter, “gentle”men are rare in public office and he certainly filled that bill. We don’t have enough of his kind.

  • Bob Kerr

    What a wonderful article. So very glad that you chose to share this Pepper