Rex Hollett, North Cowichan’s longest-serving, most-quotable mayor, died last Tuesday in hospital surrounded by family and friends.
He was 79.
Some folks were shocked about the passing of the Chemainiac most simply called Rex.
“He was an absolutely honest person,” said former mayor and councillor Tom Walker. “Rex was known to count and save every penny of tax dollars he could. He was very tough that way, and a lot of people say he looked after the public purse really well, probably better than his own — and he looked after that pretty well, too, being a business man.”
Former baseball and soccer coach Hollett started Chemainus’ B&H Tire in 1956 after moving to the struggling mill town earlier that year.
It didn’t take long for Newfoundlander Hollett, and wife Georgina, to delve into local activities.
Hollett was an avid Chemainus Rotary Club member, later serving as its president, and was on the chamber of commerce too.
“Rex was a very active and enthusiastic Rotarian,” said Dr. Gerry Phillipson. “He was a good auctioneer but didn’t like doing it much, but Rex loved to talk.
“He’ll be remembered with respect and affection,” Phillipson said, echoing Walker’s words. “Rex was best known for his integrity and fiscal responsibility while in office — he also took responsibility for his own health and habits. The community will miss him.”
That includes Graham Bruce, who served with Hollett for years on council.
“I worked with Rex for 11 years as a councillor, then as mayor, then provincially,” the former B.C. cabinet minister said of straight-talking Hollett.
Hollett was a councillor between 1977 and 1987.
His five terms as mayor spanned 1988 to 1996, then again between 1999 and 2002.
“Rex certainly wasn’t shy about giving his opinion and had a humorous way of doing that,” said Bruce.
Banter aplenty surfaced in the late ‘70s when mayor Bruce debated with former councillors Hollett, Glen Ridgway, Paul Osborne, Allan Hussey and others.
“It was a real transformational council with so many things still pertinent today set in place, and Rex was part of that,” said Bruce. “He added lots of colour to those discussions. it was great deal of fun in those days with that host of characters. We were into lots of land-use planning and subdivision control; it was a great example of how people left their partisanship at the door.”
Former Duncan mayor Mike Coleman shared that democratic view.
“Rex and I went to an awful lot of meetings together, including the CVRD,” he said. “He was certainly colourful, single-minded, and tough but very fair.”
Coleman also praised Hollett’s thrift on taxpayers’ behalf.
“Rex was one of the best at making sure he squeezed every taxpayer penny before spending it — very fiscally prudent,” he said. “Government at all levels should consider that.”
Coleman painted Hollett as a generous, family guy who could agree to disagree.
“Though we disagreed politically, we never clashed,” Coleman noted of “gruff” yet “soft-hearted” Hollett.
MP Jean Crowder says Hollett was “a unique individual and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in what he believed in.”
“No matter what our differences are, it’s all part of our democratic process, and Rex contributed to that process,” she said.
Some process was guided by North Cowichan staffer Mark Ruttan.
“He was a mayor with an amazing memory,” said Ruttan. “He’ll be remembered for holding the line on taxes.”
“We’re losing a very strong supporter of the community,” added Hollett’s retired administrator, John Berikoff. “With Rex, what you saw was what you got — you might not agree with him, but you got it right from the horse’s mouth. He was a very strong family man, and very fair with staff.”
Hollett’s son, Greg, reflected all comments about his father.
“He had an uncanny ability to made people feel comfortable, to make them feel special and loved.”
“He treated everyone the same, whether they were a king or a pauper,” he said of his father, who took wayward folks into his home. “Dad was blessed with the ability to open his heart with generosity. He showed us how to honour one another and others, how to be honest and trust, and get the most out of each moment.”
Greg said sunny skies outside Cowichan District Hospital April 9 saw Hollett “having fun, like being mayor and council one more time, but he knew his body was worn out.”
“It’s not possible to describe how much we’re going to miss him,” he said. “If God needs a mayor in Heaven, he’ll probably put dad to work.”
Hollett’s celebration of life takes place this Thursday (April 19) at 2 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church at 3318 River Rd. in Chemainus.