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A force is stopped

Trying to sum up a life in a few hundred words always exposes the inadequacy of words, or at least words as I know how to put them together.

Trying to sum up a life in a few hundred words always exposes the inadequacy of words, or at least words as I know how to put them together. Nevertheless, I need to cobble together a few more words about Ted Nebbeling, Whistler's former mayor, former MLA and a friend for 20 years.

Ted was a man of his times. Although he came to Whistler in 1979 his "times" here are remembered by most as the six years he was mayor, from 1990 to 1996.

Whistler was a different place then. The recession of the early '80s that staggered the fledgling Whistler Village and the plans for a major destination resort was still in a lot of people's minds, including Ted's.

Ted was part of the first generation of "modern" Whistler business owners who opened shops and stores in the new town centre, as it was frequently called in the early '80s. Towards the end of the decade those people and their businesses finally had a couple of consecutive years of growth and stability, but Whistler still had a long way to go.

It wasn't until 1989 that the conference centre and Whistler Golf Course were "repatriated" from the provincial government. Whistler had yet to see its first $1 million house sale. And while there was always tension between slow/no-growth advocates and full-speed ahead business people, there was a palpable sense of optimism that Whistler was coming into its own. One of those signs was the October 1989 issue of Ski Magazine that ranked Vail as the number one ski resort in North America but stated on its cover, "You'll never guess who's number 2."

The conference centre-golf course deal set up the development of Village North during Ted's terms as mayor. With people finally convinced that Whistler could be something big the provincial government was in a position to start selling the Village North lands it had acquired when it took over the golf course and conference centre. Private developers were now anxious to invest in Whistler, and Village North parcels sold quickly.

That, in turn, produced a steady flow of cash for the municipality, which was invested in the community. During Ted's tenure Whistler's bus system was started. The swimming pool and later the ice rink at the Meadow Park Sports Centre were part of Ted's legacy, and how they came about was typical of his style.

The decision to build the pool and arena somewhere other than in the village was controversial. While Whistler was generally prospering, many people believed that any facility that was going to draw people should be in the village. The village was the focal point of the resort and building the recreation centre outside the village was going to weaken that focus.

Ted saw it differently. The municipality couldn't afford to build on Lot 1 in the village and the residents of Whistler had been calling for a recreation centre for years. Putting it in Meadow Park was a way to deliver what residents wanted at an affordable price, so Ted steamrolled ahead. That was one of Ted's strengths; he made up his mind and then he got it done.

That was also one of Ted's faults, at least in some people's minds. He was too Dutch: wooden houses, wooden shoes, wouldn't listen. He led the charge, and councillors generally followed his lead - some willingly, some kicking and screaming. The same could be said of municipal staff.

For some people it was a case of love him or hate him, but many people could do both. He would bring ferocious conviction to a debate and when it was over he would completely disarm you with one of his malapropisms. "That's the way the coffee crumbles," or "We kill two pigeons with stones," he'd say in his Dutch accent.

He could work a room like few others, surfing from one conversation to the next, always with an answer, never at a loss for words, even if the words didn't always make sense.

And you had to admire the way he put himself right out in front on anything he strongly believed in, a leader and a target. He didn't mind. But that public persona was the only Ted that many people saw. Fewer people saw the guy taking coffee and food to firefighters battling a blaze in the middle of the night, or the guy who helped people get their businesses started.

Loyalty was important to him. Friendships and relationships lasted - they were sometimes tested, but they lasted. And contrary to common belief in Whistler, those friendships could extend across political allegiances. Former NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail was a friend of Ted's. He appreciated the humour when she brought out a dancing plastic penis during one of his speeches in Question Period.

Ted Nebbeling was a driving force, always moving, talking, taking charge, doing what he thought was right and what the situation called for. He was one of a group of friends and family who met me at the airport after my wife died. He grabbed my car keys, brought my vehicle back to Whistler and helped orchestrate the memorial service.

A few weeks later he found out he had cancer. And last week the force stopped.