Many in Puslinch Township and beyond were saddened to learn of the sudden passing on Nov. 16 of former mayor Brad Whitcombe.
He was rushed to the hospital last Saturday for emergency surgery due to a severe bacterial infection and died the next day. He was 64 years old.
Whitcombe served the township and its citizens from 1989 to 2010 – first as a councillor, then deputy reeve and, following the retirement of Archie MacRobbie, reeve of Puslinch. He served as reeve/mayor from 1995 until 2010 and also sat on Wellington County council, serving as county warden in 2000 and again in 2005-06.
“He will be sorely missed. He was a visionary and a great community leader,” current Warden Chris White said of Whitcombe.
“This was the kind of a guy who has left a legacy which you will still be able to see in 100 years or more.”
During Whitcombe’s first stint as warden, Wellington County hosted the International Plowing Match near Elora. Whitcombe was heavily involved in Wellington County’s 150th anniversary in 2004, as well as the corresponding formation of the Green Legacy Program, helping to establish the program’s first nursery at the Little Tract property in Puslinch.
In 2011, Whitcombe was named winner of the individual Green Legacy award. At the presentation of the award, county planner Mark Van Patter said Whitcombe “best represents the Green Legacy Program.”
Van Patter added that Whitcombe “had confidence that people and landowners could do the job. Brad was adamant the community could do the job.”
At the time, Whitcombe called the Green Legacy Program “our obligation. We’ve benefited from development and now it’s time to give back. Trees are not just good for the soul, but also for the environment.”
Through the years, Whitcombe also championed the enhancement of the Wellington County library system through the construction of new libraries and the renovation/restoration of the historic Carnegie libraries.
At the time of his passing, he remained a member of the Information, Heritage and Seniors Committee, which includes the library portfolio.
In a press release current Puslinch Mayor Dennis Lever said Whitcombe “was responsible for many initiatives that make Puslinch such a wonderful community.
“Our deepest sympathy is with his family and friends in this time of grieving.”
Former Puslinch CAO Brenda Law said, “We’re all going to miss him. The whole thing is just a total shock and I’m still reeling through that. Brad was a great guy, a great friend, and a great guy to work for.”
Law said she that over the years she had a good relationship with Whitcombe, whom she noted treated everyone, especially those who worked at the township, with respect and appreciation.
“It was a good place to work at the township. Brad was always friendly, spoke to everyone and always made you feel comfortable and you enjoyed working there,” said Law.
She counted the construction of the Optimist Recreation Centre and the new county library – both in Aberfoyle – as two of Whitcombe’s significant accomplishments.
“He was a real strong supporter of our heritage/history committee and historical buildings,” said Law.
“He also had a strong community spirit and always strived for that.”
Councillor-elect Matthew Bulmer served three previous terms on Puslinch council with Whitcombe.
“He always called upon us to reach farther than we thought we could. He’d ask us to do the difficult things and believed we could achieve it,” said Bulmer, citing Whitcombe’s involvement with Friends of Mill Creek as an example.
“He’d put differences aside to work for a common goal,” he said. “Just because he disagreed with someone, did not mean the other person was a liar or trying to take advantage of them.”
Bulmer said Whitcombe recognized that “people come from different perspectives and have different skills. He was a good man for respecting those skills and bringing a team together.”
Bulmer, who was also shocked with the News of Whitcombe’s passing, said he first met Whitcombe when he joined the Puslinch Optimists a few years before being elected to council for the first time in 2000.
“But I really didn’t get to know him that well until we served on council together,” said Bulmer, noting someone once observed that he and Whitcombe were such close friends.
“But working with him for 15 or 16 years on various things in the community … I’ve only been in his house once in all those years,” said Bulmer.
“He was an intensely private person and I think that’s something a lot of people didn’t really understand – how intensely private and shy he was.”
Bulmer noted Whitcombe’s dedication to the community, in addition to his roles on council and his work on the library board and Friends of the Mill Creek, also included service with the Puslinch Optimists, the Hamilton Conservation Authority and the Grand River Conservation Authority.
“He’s going to leave a hole,” said Bulmer. “Brad and Archie (MacRobbie) were the kind of people the community crystallized around. When they are gone it leaves a hole …”
He added it was Whitcombe’s idea to put the agricultural market in the new Optimist Recreation Centre.
“He pegged me with that job … but for him it was all about community,” said Bulmer. “Whatever the issue, he recognized it was real people who were going to be affected one way or another. It wasn’t just some cold calculated decision … it was something that would affect someone’s life.”
Politicians may come and go, but Whitcombe’s legacy will still be felt in 100 years, said Wellington County Warden Chris White.
White pointed to some of the projects Whitcombe initiated throughout Wellington County, including the two Green Legacy tree nurseries and planting program.
To date well over one million trees have been planted throughout the county, White said, adding, “Hopefully those trees and those nurseries will still be around in 100 years and the program will still be going.”
White then spoke of Whitcombe’s positive impact on the Wellington County library system.
“He helped start the program of renovating the Carnegie libraries … In 100 years, they will still be there. And that is all directly due to Brad’s work.
“His legacy will be felt for the next 100 years and you can’t say that about a lot of folks. He will be missed and he did a lot of things the county will enjoy for years to come.”