Duncan’s Joan Gillatt (Gower), a long-time servant of the Duncan community and beyond, died on Aug. 10 at the age of 93.
A nine-year city councillor, and at times the deputy mayor, Gillatt’s service to Duncan earned her Freedom of the City honours in 2005.
Former Duncan mayor Michael Coleman called her “a force in the local community.”
“She was a strong woman, very progressive, with a passion for social justice,” Coleman said. “She was also a stalwart of the Duncan United Church. We were close and I will miss her — as will many others.”
Current Duncan Mayor Phil Kent, too, remembered her as “a very strong, independent woman.”
“She contributed a lot to the community over the years,” Kent said.
A pioneer of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union — in fact the first woman ever to head that organization — in the fall of 1959 Gillatt was honoured with lifetime membership and in 1997 she was granted another special lifetime membership for her efforts and activism.
There’s a even piece of Grade 11 curriculum available from the BC Teacher’s Union documenting her work with the BCGEU.
Also an honourary life member of the NDP, Gillatt worked in the constituency offices for local MP Tommy Douglas and MLA Barbara Wallace.
“I don’t think she ever, ever stopped,” said Ann Anderson, who spent countless hours on both school board and NDP matters with Gillatt. “When she was well into her 80s we were having constituency meetings at her house in the evening!”
Andersen first met Gillatt while the former was a reporter covering the school board beat. Gillatt had been a trustee first, then later, the chair of the board.
In 1979, upon Gillatt’s urging, Andersen ran for a school board seat as well.
“She was a wonderful mentor,” Andersen said. “She could advise you without seeming to advise you. It was really quite something. Her wisdom was really quite something.”
In addition to her tenure with the BCGEU, the NDP, the school board, the church, and the City of Duncan, her community service included children and youth leadership with Cubs and Brownies and countless other organizations including but not limited to the Cowichan Lodge senior care facility, the Cowichan District Hospital board, Cowichan United Way, Community Futures and more.
“Joan served as chair of Community Futures Cowichan (our inaugural chair) from 1989-1991 and was one of the founding members of our organization,” said a post from the Community Futures Facebook page. “She was so connected to the community and we are fortunate to have known and worked with her. We will remember her fondly.”
In 2012 Gillatt was among 20 Cowichan residents honoured with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
“She didn’t stop. She was contributing in many ways for her whole life,” Kent said. “You can say that was a good fruitful, long life but when you lose people who are like that, there’s really never enough time is it? I’m certain she’ll be missed for sure.”
North Cowichan councillor Tom Walker also had kind words on Facebook.
“We lost a great and caring lady. A couple times in past years we didn’t agree on a couple issues, but we did it in a most adult way, and ended up with greater respect for each other. I feel a great loss in learning of her passing,” Walker wrote.
Gillatt’s own Facebook page was sparse, her last post coming on May 30, 2013.
“May peace prevail on earth.”