He's dined with kings and presidents and princes of industry. Met with film stars and sports heroes and big-name celebrities. He's carried the Whistler torch around the world - from Torino to Stockholm, from Beijing to New York. He's spoken to hundreds. Thousands. Tens of thousands. Passionately. Honestly. And with the same rough-hewn delivery he's always had.
For one thing is clear about hizzoner Ken Melamed. You can take the man out of the mountains, but you can't take the mountains out of the man.
Always refreshing to talk with, Melamed rarely pulls his punches. Sure, he's learned to be slightly more diplomatic with time. But he's just as direct now as he was in his pro patrol days at Whistler Mountain. I mean, when he barked back then, you listened. Sure, some of the high-rollers in this valley might dismiss him for his lack of sophistication. But don't be fooled. There's a lot more to Melamed than meets the eye.
And now, with the Games less than a month away, he finds himself with just a little breathing room to reflect on what's transpired and what's to come.
"It's kind of surreal," says Whistler's second-term mayor. A quick smile flits across his features. "I mean, we've worked on this for so long. Wrestled with the problems. Dealt with the issues. And now it's upon us..." He laughs. "Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming."
Melamed and I are sitting in his office at Muni Hall. Neat and tidy, and with few hints at just how busy the guy is (other than the incessant ringing of the telephone), his version of the mayor's chambers divulges few clues to his personal life. That's okay though. I'm not here to uncover secrets. You see, I've known Kenny for most of my adult life. Not well, mind you. But we share a lot of mutual friends. And a fierce love of mountain life. Which is why, probably, I still struggle to picture him in his political/executive role.
There's absolutely nothing slick about the guy. No hidden agenda. No favours for a friend. No making deals to get further ahead. Love him. Respect him. Loathe him. Despise him. Whatever. He's his own man. And he wears his passions on his sleeve.
I mean, you look at Mayor Pretty-Face in Vancouver, all high cheekbones and photogenic fashions and smug, canary-in-the-mouth smiles. The man is a walking billboard for false. I can't believe a word that comes out of his mouth.
Not Kenny. A mountain-inflected amalgam that blends a little Inspector Clouseau with a hefty dose of the old Mighty Mouse cartoon character, Melamed is so real it hurts. Short, balding and wielding a slightly pugnacious conversation style, he favours ball caps and fleece jackets over suits and ties. He'd much rather be on his skis in the mountains than attend yet another VIP cocktail. And when it comes to matters he feels strongly about, the 55-year-old can be surprisingly blunt.
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