Tom Walker has been awarded North Cowichan’s Freedom of the Municipality in a well-attended ceremony on Dec. 19.
Walker was a member of the municipality’s council for a total of 20 years, including three as mayor, as well as serving as a director and chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District during that time, before he decided not to run again in October’s municipal elections.
Since North Cowichan was incorporated 145 years ago in 1873, only 10 other individuals have been awarded Freedom of the Municipality, making Walker just the 11th Freeman to receive the honour.
With Walker’s extensive background in forestry, he played a significant role in helping to establish the municipality’s sustainable forestry program.
Earlier this year, Walker was also honoured when council renamed a forestry scholarship the “Tom Walker Forest Legacy Bursary Scholarship”.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring, who presented Walker with the award, said it’s “rare and significant” when the municipality decides to make someone a Freeman.
“Tom contributed to the community in so many ways and he deserves this symbol of esteem and respect bestowed upon him,” he said.
“I learned a lot from him when I was a new councillor and he was the mayor, and have tried to emulate him in many ways. Tom has had a distinguished career. He is a kind and thoughtful person who listens and then speaks last with a practical message. We thank him for his dedication.”
Walker said in a previous interview that he decided not to seek re-election in October’s municipal elections last Christmas, but kept his plans quiet until recently.
He said recent health issues confirmed that he was making the right decision.
Walker said he was “honoured and surprised” to receive the award.
He said he was recently asked what he thought was his greatest contribution to the community, and said it was his work in helping to create North Cowichan’s municipal forest reserve many years before he served on council.
“My advice to this new council is steady as she goes and keep the ship off the rocks,” Walker said.
“North Cowichan is run well, but there will always be rocks that will need to be avoided. I’d like to thank my wife Pat for always standing by me, through thick and thin.”
Walker has also served in several additional capacities throughout the Cowichan community, including being a founding member of North Cowichan’s forestry advisory committee, and president and director of many other community organizations.
Now in retirement, Walker serves on the board of the BC Forest Discovery Centre.