Longtime Mayor Mike Duncan’s 12th Freeman

Former longtime Duncan mayor Mike Coleman, left, is congratulated by current Mayor Phil Kent after receiving the city’s highest honour Monday at Duncan City Hall. - Peter W. Rusland
Former longtime Duncan mayor Mike Coleman, left, is congratulated by current Mayor Phil Kent after receiving the city’s highest honour Monday at Duncan City Hall.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Humour was mixed with emotion as lawyer and former city mayor Mike Coleman became the 12th Freeman of Duncan Monday.

Coleman proudly accepted the city’s highest honour with wife Barbara, and their children and grandchildren, watching in the jammed council chambers.

“This honour is as much Barbara’s as it is mine,” the freshman Freeman said.

It’s a distinction he ranks as being matched by just two other milestones in his long legal and political careers: being named a Queen’s Counsel in 2010; and being named to the national roll of honour with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

He was FCM’s national director from 1991 to 2005, its vice-president from 2003 to 2004, and served as FCM’s president in 2005.

Besides his family life and legal practice, Coleman was most satisfied with his political career as a councillor and Totem Town’s longest-serving mayor.

“All councillors working together makes an exceptional council,” the published poet said, thanking citizens, city hall staff, his former councillors — and his fellow Freemen.

Calling political office “the bone of democracy” the arts patron listed some of his official and volunteer achievements that earned him the Freeman title for long-term commitment to Duncan.

They include helping develop VIU’s Cowichan campus, revamping city square, boosting relations with Cowichan Tribes, winning the bid for the 2008 North American Indigenous Games, and forging links with Duncan’s sister cities Meru, Kenya, and Montmagny, Quebec.

Coleman’s commitment to helping the city made him a ballot favourite.

“I was a candidate in 15 city elections,” he said.

“Coming in second when running for city councillor is still exceptionally good — for mayor, not so much,” the veteran public speaker joked.

He spoke from experience.

Coleman first ran for city council in 1973 and served until 1979 as an alderman.

He was first elected mayor in late 1979 and kept the big chair until 1983.

Coleman regained the chain of office in 1985 and held it until 2005 when he was defeated by current Mayor Phil Kent.

Barbara Coleman was delighted with her husband’s newest kudo.

“It’s appropriate,” she said. “On one occasion I brought my Cub pack into city hall and one Cub asked Mike, ‘What does serving in a higher office mean?’

“His response was, ‘It simply means you’re a servant to more people.’”

Coleman fondly remembered “the bare coverage” he got after posing with his new QC robes for a News Leader Pictorial cover shot using the same bare-shoulder stance as seen in former prime minister Kim Campbell’s famous photo.

But being elected to, and serving in, public office was no joke to Coleman.

“It’s easy to denigrate politicians — easy and cheap, but not fair,” he said, urging folks to love their neighbours.

“Be involved in public life and your community.”

Coleman walked that talk.

After settling in Cowichan in 1969, with his family and the UBC law degree he earned in ‘68, the young barrister immersed himself in his community, helping found many now-familiar organizations including Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Cowichan Family Life, Cowichan Hospital Foundation, and the Valley Native Friendship Centre.

Freeman Coleman blended humour with political reality during Monday’s moving acceptance speech.

“People only wanted more services and less taxes — some things never change,” he smiled.


Others awarded

The Freeman of the City was not the only award handed out during Monday’s Duncan inaugural ceremony in city hall.

Cowichan elder Abner (Tstxumum) Thorne was added to Duncan’s scroll of honour saluting exemplary community service.

Abner Thorne’s son, Kevin, received the honour from his nephew, Councillor Joe Thorne, recognizing Abner as a fisherman, Hul’qumi’num- language preserver, soccer coach, and tribal-housing councillor.

Another scroll was presented to Louise McMurray by freshman Councillor Michelle Staples. McMurray’s scroll saluted her work with Film Cowichan, Cowichan Spirit Drummers, and the Cowichan Aboriginal and Intercultural film-and-art festivals.

McMurray and Thorne are among 55 scroll holders recognized since 1977.

This year’s Duncan sports trophy was presented to soccer Olympian Emily Zurrer by Councillor Sharon Jackson. See page on page 25.

Meanwhile, the venerable Cowichan Folk Guild and its founders were saluted with Duncan’s 15th-annual Perpetual Arts Trophy, sponsored by the News Leader Pictorial.

Songwriter Deb Maike and singer Mike Ballantyne — founders of the 1985 Cowichan Folk Festival, now the Islands Folk Festival — received keeper artpieces donated by leather worker Longevity John Falkner, and painter Bev Koski respectively. Ballantyne was absent.

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