Flags stood at half-mast in Vanderhoof to honour the passing of pioneer Bill McLeod, who passed away peacefully on Monday (Feb 28) having celebrated his 91st birthday on Feb. 16.
Judy McLeod, Bill’s wife of 66 years, said he was well taken care of by staff at the Stuart Nechako Manor. Elementary school students would check in on him regularly, too.
“On his birthday the grade 3 children from the McLeod elementary sang happy birthday to him outside his window and gave him a big Valentine’s’ birthday card,” Judy said.
“When he passed the nurses made sure that he didn’t have any pain and he was comfortable. The people there have just been tremendous.”
Born in 1931, Bill finished his teacher training in Victoria at the age of 19. He got his first job at a one-room schoolhouse south of Revelstoke where he doubled as a teacher and principal.
In 1960 Bill and his family were living in Bridge River. He responded to a newspaper ad for a school principal in Vanderhoof, got the job and never looked back. He remained at Vanderhoof Elementary — now named W.L. McLeod in his honour — for 25 years.
An entertainer at heart, Bill’s family said he ‘couldn’t walk past a microphone.’ He did stand-up comedy routines at the curling club and was a regular MC at community events.
He served as mayor for four years, coached softball, and hosted a radio show called “Birdman Bill” where he shared his passion for birdwatching. Bill was also a member of the Rotary Club.
Vanderhoof resident Kim Worthington said it was rumoured that while Bill was mayor, things were best when he didn’t leave town.
“Apparently, while the mayor was out of town, major buildings, Evelyn Dickson School, the Elevator and the Arena, burned down,” Worthington said.
During summer months, Bill took courses from UBC to earn his Bachelor of Education — a goal that he achieved over the course of 13 years.
He left the principal’s chair at Vanderhoof Elementary to lend his expertise and experience at the School Board Office. He worked there until retiring in 1985 and the school took his name.
Bill kept busy in his retirement years. He worked on numerous accreditation trips throughout northern B.C. and even drove the Zamboni at the Vanderhoof Arena one winter.
In 1998, W. L. McLeod Elementary School started an ultimate frisbee tournament to help Bill’s son in law, John Ryan, raise money for spinal cord research. Bill showed up for many tournaments and was always proud of the school for the efforts in this cause.
Above all though, Bill is remembered by family and those who knew him for his sharp wit, sense of humour and love of community.
One student who Bill inspired was current Vanderhoof District Mayor Gerry Thiessen.
“I don’t ever remember a time in elementary school that he was not my principal. He was a great mentor,” Thiessen said.
Thiessen said the community is forever grateful to Bill for standing up and advocating for Vanderhoof in all sorts of different ways during his life.
That’s why the mayor said it was important to honour Bill by flying the flags at half-mast at City Hall and all the District of Vanderhoof buildings.
“There were so many different facets to Bill McLeod. There was the leadership that he provided young people in elementary school and there was the social side. If you went to an event and he was the MC, you knew you were going to have a great evening,” Thiessen said.
“We’re very thankful for the contribution — and for being the mayor of our community. It’s a commitment and as busy as his lifestyle was he was willing to stand for election in our community and be the mayor. We’re thankful for all those things.”
Bill’s daughter Penny McLeod said she hopes the community will honour his memory by being there for each other no matter what.
“He was so community-minded. I think that’s a really important thing in these times — to realize that everybody can come together and be kind and generous to each other,” Penny said.
“People can honour him if they’d like to by being community-minded.”