Gilson fondly remembered as councillor who represented the people

Coun. Struchan Gilson, who passed away suddenly at his home last Thursday, will be remembered as a man who felt strongly that government should serve the interests of the people, say those who worked with him on town council.
On Monday, former mayor Glenn Witherspoon fondly recalled Gilson, 63, whom he worked with during his final two terms on council.
“Of all the people I’ve worked with in my 18 years in municipal politics, he was the most true and dedicated of people,” said Witherspoon.
“He was looking out for John Q. Public,” the former mayor added. “At times, he just didn’t understand politics. He would just say, ‘Why don’t we do this if it’s good for the public?’
“He was their [the public’s] councillor,” stressed Witherspoon. “With some councillors, you might at times question their motives. There was no doubt what Struchan’s was—it was for the betterment of Fort Frances.”
Witherspoon, who sat with Gilson on the local rec commission for years before the latter was ever elected to council, mentioned he was a great proponent of recreation and athletics in the community, and a supporter of projects such as the new Memorial Sports Centre.
Witherspoon smiled when he recalled that when he would go out of town with Gilson on town business, the latter wouldn’t even turn in a receipt for mileage because that cost ultimately would go back to the taxpayer.
“I don’t think anybody could say anything bad about him. He was a wonderful individual,” added Witherspoon. “Wherever he went, it’s a better place.”
Coun. Roy Avis, who was elected to town council in 1997, the same year as Gilson, said yesterday his fellow councillor was “very honest, sincere, and dedicated”—even though he may not have always agreed with him.
“He would always offer his own opinion rather than follow the majority of council,” he remarked. He was for the people. He brought a different philosophy to the table than someone, say, who was in business.
“And I noticed sometimes he brought his coaching to the table, as well,” added Coun. Avis. “He would say, ‘This is how it is. You gotta have a team. A team’s got to work together.’
“That actually was quite prevalent in the way he did business.”
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who not only sat next to Gilson at the council table but also was a long-time friend, said Friday morning that he will be “sorely missed” as a man who gave much to his community over the decades, including being instrumental in the high school volleyball and soccer programs.
“He worked with literally thousands of young people over the years. And the impact he had on them was immeasurable,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft remarked.
“He turned shy, introverted individuals into outgoing young people. He always brought out the best in whoever he worked with.
“I think he was not only respected by the athletes he coached, but loved by them,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft said.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft coached the Muskie senior girls’ volleyball team with Gilson for many years, and spent a lot of time with him on the road.
“He was a great source of energy. And he was reliable—he was always where he was needed.”
On the municipal front, Coun. Wiedenhoeft said Gilson “brought the human touch to council.”
“Quite often, we get caught up in policies and regulations,” he remarked. “Struchan always brought our discussions back to the people, and what impact our decisions would have on them.
“He’ll be sorely missed by council,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added. “And I’ll miss him as a friend and colleague.”
“Struchan and I worked together on a lot of issues over the past year-and-a-half of council. I came to respect him greatly,” echoed Coun. Tannis Drysdale.
“He was solid in his beliefs, and willing to express them, but also willing to move on with the rest of council once a decision had been made,” she added.
“He was exactly the kind of person we needed on our council this past term. His passing will be a great loss for the Town of Fort Frances.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig wholeheartedly agreed.
“Struchan had strong principles,” he said Monday. “The thing that was most admirable about Struchan what that whether you agreed with him or not, Struchan was always consistent with his principles.
“He stuck by them, and I admired greatly him for that.
“He was a great asset to council,” McCaig added. “He brought the human touch. He was always consistent with that. He never let go of that. He always brought that to the forefront and it served as a constant reminder.
“And I’m going to miss those kind of talks.
“I had great respect for the man because he had principles and he always stuck by them,” McCaig concluded.
“It is with great sadness that the flags at town hall are being lowered to honour the passing of Coun. Struchan Gilson,” Mayor Dan Onichuk had said in a statement released late Thursday.
“A dedicated man who touched the lives of so many people across our town and district,” he added.
In respect of Gilson’s memory, council gathered for a moment of silence and reflection last Thursday. As well, the Civic Centre was closed Wendesday from 9:30 a.m. until noon so town administration and staff could attend his funeral service at the ’52 Canadians Arena.
The regular meeting of council, which was supposed to have been held Monday night, was postponed until next Monday (Aug. 29).
Gilson was born Jan. 24, 1942 in Coleraine, Great Britain to the late Eric and Elizabeth Gilson. Educated in Great Britain until 1955, he immigrated to Canada with his mother and late brother, Piers.
He graduated from Waterloo Lutheran University with a teaching degree. Prior to teaching in Fort Frances, Struchan taught in Waterloo and Orillia, Ont., where he met his wife, Laura Patricia Steer.
After 34 years of teaching at the elementary and high school level, Gilson retired in 1996.
Gilson also was very active in sports, sitting on the local recreation commission for more than 20 years, and helping initially organize and co-ordinate the men’s Borderland Soccer Association as well as several local races (including the Terry Fox Run).
He also was involved in getting the Eighth Street ski trails built and maintained.
As well, Gilson was heavily involved in elementary and high school sports for more than 40 years. He helped start, and then coached, the Muskie girls’ soccer team for the last 20 years, and coached and refereed junior and senior girls’ volleyball for more than 15.
He also coached, refereed, and supervised field preparation for the 2000 OFSAA girls’ soccer championship here.
Gilson is survived by his wife, Pat, children, Eric and Rylee, and six grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son, Garfield, who died suddenly just last month.