TLTI council remembers 'gentleman' and 'officer'

It was a council meeting like no other for this group of Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands councillors.

On Monday, council held its first meeting without its deputy mayor, Gordon Ohlke, who died suddenly but peacefully in his sleep on Feb. 22, at the age of 70 – just over a week after leading a council meeting for the first time ever.

Council held a moment of silence to begin Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, followed by remarks by members of council, each taking a turn remembering their lost colleague.

Coun. Brian Mabee started by saying that Ohlke, a retired military veteran, was an officer and a gentleman.

“If anyone has read his obituary, you’ll see that he touched many lives around this world,” said Mabee.

“It is men like him who secured our freedoms. He will be greatly missed around this table. He was always ready to chat about whatever it was that was on his mind. He and I, many times, talked about the sweet things of life, his honey and my maple syrup, whether it’d be at his truck or at the sap house.

"So, indeed, his candor, his well-thought-out process and what he brought to this council table will definitely be missed, and how he attended to all of the needs of the people of Ward 2. So, Gord, to you, thank you very much for your dedicated service to this council and to all that you have touched over the years.”

Coun. Jeff Lackie said there are few people in this world who can have such an impact in such a short amount of time in people’s lives.

“And Gord was definitely one of those people,” said Lackie. “For someone who I personally only have known for four-and-a-half years, it sure was a pleasure. He will be missed, most definitely.”

Coun. Brock Gorrell, holding back tears, talked about Ohlke’s presence.

“I’ve only known Gord for our time on council, but I remember meeting Gord and he mentioned about his new farm, what brought him to council, which was for the involvement in our community, and then getting to know him you learn he’s a career infantry man. He always exhibited a dry humour and had a devilish smile. And he was indeed a gentleman and an officer.

"I remember one day, early on in our council (days) when I got a text from him and it said, ‘to Blue Buzzard, this is Muddy Boots, and he was referring to himself as an infantry officer and myself as a fly boy, and for the rest of our time together I was Blue Buzzard and he was Muddy Boots. I always enjoyed his company.”

Coun. Terry Fodey talked about how he and Ohlke first met while attending council meetings as members of the public, prior to running for council.

“We recognized each other after two or three meetings, started sitting together, chatting, and from there forward we revealed to each other our intentions to run for council that fall. After being successful to be elected, all of us here got to know Gord for who he really was – a very dedicated person.

"Gord became a friend of mine because he wanted to absorb all he could about agriculture, with the first half of my life being a dairy farmer, he was intrigued by that, he being a beekeeper or how he’d jokingly refer to ‘his flight crew” – he had various names for the bees. Gord served his whole life and was dedicated to his wife, his family, his children, his country, his comrades, to us here on council and the residents of the township. The residents of the township owe Gordon Ohlke a thank-you for what he has done for us and for the path he has set forward for us. I myself, consider this as losing a close friend.”

Coun. Mark Jamison said he and Ohlke had many heated discussions, rarely disagreeing on the goal, but rarely agreeing on how to achieve the goal.

“Which made for us interesting exchanges, which led Gord to label us Statler and Waldorf, the Muppet characters sitting up in the balcony complaining and arguing all the time, and as the guy up in the balcony right now, it’s pretty lonely.”

Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke said it was a great honour to serve alongside Ohlke.

“Someone who believed in service before self, no matter what,” Smith-Gatcke said of Ohlke. “He began his life that way and left this world that way.”

Smith-Gatcke added that Ohlke was kind and understanding.

“He certainly had very specific opinions,” said the mayor.

“He stood up for what he believed in, he was generous to a fault with his time, and the members of our community know that because if you called Gord with an issue, he made time for you. And this isn’t to disparage any of you on council but when it came to campaigning, Gord worked the hardest. For someone who was not from here, who had no connections or very few connections to start here, and to be elected, duly elected in a township he dubbed his second home is really an impressive feat and says a lot about his tenacity and a dedication to a goal he puts forward. I hope we all get to write our final chapter the way that he did, the peace he found at the end, watching a hockey game. And I will miss the honey that I got (from Ohkle) that still sits in my cupboard. What some people may not know is that honey lasts forever. It does not go bad. So, I will keep it as memento going forward. Thank you, Gord.”

(Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)

Keith Dempsey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times