As a tot in the 1930s, he constructed castles out of blocks, only to have them kicked down by his brothers. As his mother told it, three-year-old Robert Bose would quickly and carefully put them back in place over and over, until his brothers became tired of tormenting him.
It’s that same dogged determination Bob Bose, now 79, carried throughout the rest of his life, including his 28 years serving on Surrey city council – which included nearly a decade as mayor.
Bose and his Surrey Civic Coalition (SCC) were crushed by Mayor Dianne Watts’ Surrey First machine on Saturday, the defeat essentially writing the closing chapter in the elder statesman’s political story.
Wearing khakis and a black pullover sweater, Bose sat in his office Tuesday morning, packing boxes and preparing for his final exit from politics.
Switching between laughter and tears, he recalled the long road that brought him to this moment, each vignette an emotional extreme.
As a youth, he didn’t have political aspirations, Bose said, in his customary stance of comfort and honesty, leaning back with arms crossed.
Unlike his grandfather Robert, who was a Surrey pioneer and a reeve (mayor) of this city from 1905 to 1910, Bose always wanted to be a scientist.
However, he remembers harbouring a deep distaste for injustice.
While in Grade 1 at Surrey Centre school, he huddled outside the front door of the one-room schoolhouse on a cold winter day.
The teacher was late.
Bose edged his way through the crowd and kicked the door in, allowing his schoolmates to get refuge from the cold.
He was strapped for it.
“I always took matters into my own hands,” Bose said.
He eventually fulfilled his lifelong goal of becoming a scientist, obtaining his PhD in chemistry from the University of Minnesota.
He was a practising chemist in Vancouver, then in Panorama Ridge in 1969, where he was eventually convinced to become president of the area’s ratepayers association.
Not surprisingly, the main issue on the Ridge was regarding the hasty pace of development. He lobbied for residents against the regimes of former mayors Bill Vander Zalm and Ed McKitka.
Bose’s friend Bill Vogel unseated McKitka in 1977, and then brought Bose on as a councillor the following year.
Except for brief periods when he stepped down to run as an NDP MLA in Newton (he was beaten by Rita Johnson) and being unseated as mayor in 1996, Bose has been a fixture on council since he was first elected.
Now that he’s been voted off for a final time (Bose said he won’t run again), he has a moment to reflect on the highlights of his career.
The proudest moment was making Bill Fomich a Freeman of the City.
“My official opposition – it brings tears to my eyes every time,” Bose said, who had the Freeman’s ribbon made from the colours of Fomich’s home country of Belarus. “Bill said, ‘oh my goodness, Belarus.’
“That was without a doubt, my proudest moment,” Bose said, choking back tears.
Bose’s list of accomplishments is long and meaningful, particularly regarding preserving green spaces in the city.
He helped avert the development of Green Timbers Urban Forest, Sunnyside Acres and Surrey Bend, in addition to innumerable other parks that were slated for construction.
He was also instrumental in helping develop the region’s first Livable Strategic Plan, which thanks in part to Bose, contains a “Green Zone” protected from development.
The plan has been updated, but the Green Zone remains.
Bose says there are things he might have handled differently, including his “biggest blunder.”
It was the mid-1990s, and Bose, who had been mayor since 1987, was attempting to end a filibuster by then-Coun. Judy Higginbotham, who would not stop talking.
Bose recessed the meeting and all councillors left, except Higginbotham, who kept talking to the packed public hearing.
He called on the night watchman to get the RCMP to send over a plainclothes female officer to escort Higginbotham out.
“Next thing I know there’s 17 squad cars. They think there’s a riot at city hall,” Bose laughed.
The following day, newspapers reported the RCMP spokesman saying they were not there to enforce Roberts Rules of Order.
“What he didn’t know was that they were there (for that),” Bose said. “That’s the legislation.”
It was tough as mayor, he said, trying to keep order in a council where he was outnumbered by the opposition.
“They’re always nipping at your heels, that’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “They’re always after your job.”
His toughest moment was losing the mayor’s chair to Doug McCallum in 1996.
He said that’s because he knew where McCallum wanted to take the city, and he thought it would be to Surrey’s detriment.
“I just saw the city going to hell in a hand basket,” Bose said, adding he felt he would be absent at a very crucial time in the city’s history.
He came back three years later and held a city council seat for a dozen years. For the last six, he was the lone voice of opposition.
Bose concedes it was exhausting at times, with no one to spell him off.
He says planning and environmental issues remain paramount.
“We need to find ways of buying and securing for the public trust large areas of environmentally sensitive lands that we cannot now acquire,” he said, adding each time he recommends such proposals, they get sloughed off.“The council has refused to even consider it, all they do is dump them into the waste basket.
“There’s nobody on council to say ‘stop, we need more parkland in our built-up areas’. ”
As for advice for Watts moving forward, Bose said ease up on the pace of development.
“Slow down, take a deep breath,” advises Bose, who says no one has any quarrel with the goals of the plans and policies of the city. However, there is concern in the execution.
“If you really plan to protect the environment, then you better do something about it, because I’ll tell you, development trumps the environment every time.”
Bose has one more council meeting on Nov. 28, then he will officially be replaced on Dec. 5.
He plans to spend more time with his family and granddaughters both here and on Vancouver Island.
Bose hints, however, that as someone who keeps re-building blocks after they’ve been kicked over, he may continue fighting for Surrey’s best interests outside of the political arena.
In their words – the legacy of Bob Bose:
“Council will miss him and the community will miss him. You can’t replace what he brought to the table, which was his expertise, his commitment and his pure attention to the community perspective.”
~ Coun. Barinder Rasode
“Everybody has to admire him for the good work that he’s done in all the years that he’s worked for the City of Surrey.”
~ Coun. Mary Martin
“I have drawn on councillor Bob Bose’s vast experience, I have quitely listened and learned from “the mentor” from afar. Bob has a sense of humour only a few could enjoy and appreciate – me being one of them. His dry wit and raucous laugh have educated and entertained us on council for many years. I believe, it would be appropriate and fitting to recognize his almost half-century of service to the City of Surrey by honouring the Bose name in an enduring and permanent way in the future.”
~ Coun.Tom Gill
“He was always incredibly good and fair with staff… He brought a real sense of urban promise, because Bob is so vigilant around design that he made everyone else vigilant about design. I think his love of architecture shows in every single thing that he does.”
~ Coun. Linda Hepner
“… A treasure of the city for many, many years. His family is well known, he is well known, he is really, really active in the city. I am very fond of Bob… he’s a very fine man.”
~ Coun. Barbara Steele
“He wanted Surrey to look good. He wanted the architecture, the buildings. and the city to just look good… he has been a champion of that for a very long time.”
~ Coun. Marvin Hunt
“I think his voice has been really important at the council table. He’s been committed to the city and cared about the fact that he wanted it to develop in a sensitive way. He never compromised his opinions and let them stand, and I think people admired that about Bob.”
~ Coun. Judy Villeneuve
“With Bob coming from a pioneer family his roots ran deep in Surrey. He dedicated many years to public service both as a councillor and as mayor. I wish him all the very best and acknowledge his many years of service.”
~ Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts