The death of Gary Robinson is a tragedy for his family, and for the people whom he inspired in his fight against addiction.
The former Surrey councillor died on Saturday at the age of 57, after coming home from a hockey game he was playing in. He went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
Robinson was a young man with a great deal of potential when he was first elected to a one-year term on council in the watershed election of 1987, which saw Bob Bose become mayor. Robinson was a political ally of Bose’s, as both were part of the Surrey Civic Electors, an arm of the provincial NDP.
There were years of battle ahead, with SCE never managing to gain a majority on council and many longtime councillors – including two who had been NDP members – fighting against the provincial party’s involvement in local politics.
Robinson was a combative participant in most of those battles, but as noted by his antagonist from those years, Surrey-Panorama MLA and Coun. Marvin Hunt, that’s what he enjoyed – the mental challenge of a political battle. He was good at it, and he didn’t seem to carry grudges, something that is unusual and refreshing for a politician.
Robinson served for 13 years on council, outlasting Bose’s nine years as mayor, but he had some even bigger battles ahead. Those were the battles with addiction.
Robinson very publicly acknowledged that he was addicted to cocaine, and that battle was a tough one.
It exacted a high toll on those nearest to him, but by 2006 he was ready to put away booze and drugs, and did so.
After dealing with those demons, he started a number of recovery homes called the Trilogy Houses, which are run by the Realistic Success Recovery Society.
He remained involved in them right to the time of his passing. and helped about 700 addicts come through their doors.
John Lenec, one of Trilogy House’s clients, said Robinson personally kept track of the 30 to 40 men in the three recovery houses. In Lenec’s case, Robinson helped pay for the first months of his recovery because Lenec couldn’t afford to do so.
Robinson also got back into the local political scene, serving as president of Surrey Civic Coalition, which tried without much success to win a few seats on council and school board.
He ran with the group in the 2011 election.
He was president of a new civic group called Surrey Matters, which has been planning to run candidates in the November 2014 election.
Robinson pushed council on a number of issues during his time there, particularly preservation of parks and natural areas, like Green Timbers, Sunnyside Acres and the Surrey Bend.
While many current residents take the preservation of these areas for granted, it took a lot of hard work to get them preserved for the future, and he was a key player in that.
There is no shortage of pressure in Surrey to develop lands, including those owned by the city, and it often takes a lot of push back to preserve lands in their natural state.
Yet it is key to creating a livable city, something that council was slow to recognize at first.
He also was passionate about hockey and was instrumental in the South Surrey Arena being built as an Olympic-size arena.
Gary Robinson cared about his community and the people who live in it.
His public battle with addiction made him appreciate people even more, and his service in helping other to beat their addictions is a legacy his family can be very proud of.
He made Surrey a better place.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.