JOHN ROBERT WEBB
At daybreak on Saint Patrick’s Day, surrounded by his wife and family, John
Robert Webb, a devoted husband, father, brother and friend, left this world
far too early.
Born in Victoria in 1946, John was raised on the West Coast. He loved the
landscape, the sea, the culture and the people of British Columbia. Growing
up in the fishing industry, his family spent many years in northern coastal
communities and this time had a life-long impact on John. He learned early
the importance of hard work and developed an enormous respect for First
Nations’ peoples and a love of their culture and art.
The roots of John’s ardent relationship with technology grew from his love
of music. Beginning with the local concert scene of the late 1960s, through
to working for Kelly-Deyong Sound; in concert promotions (ask about the
story of John being confronted by an enraged Mohamed Ali at a BB King gig);
as part of the Addled Chromish Light Show and travelling the country as a
sound engineer and road manager for numerous prominent musicians, including
Dan Hill, John developed and honed his organizational, personal and
technical skills. He was one of the organizers of the original Easter Be-Ins
in Stanley Park and served as music critic in the early days of the Georgia
Straight a period with many interesting tales. After his stint at the
Straight, his position was filled by Bob Geldoff and John, with a wink and a
nudge, claimed that he smoothed the way for Bob. One of his early, rather
short-lived ventures was as co-owner of the infamous Harry Krishna¹s Last
Chance Saloon on 4th Avenue in Vancouver.
John was an accomplished cabinetmaker and for years, working from Toronto,
built many of the La Cache and April Cornell stores. There are kitchens
sprinkled throughout Toronto and Metchosin which bear the hallmark of his
woodworking skills. He knew that the way to a woman¹s heart was through his
ability to craft beautiful and well made furniture and piqued his future
wife Moralea¹s interest when he proceeded, throughout a weekend visit, to
build her a much needed deck, supplied with only a hammer and saw (which was
of rather dubious quality).
He loved sports and in the year he lived with lung cancer, he was able to
indulge in watching them to his heart’s content. While he lived in Toronto
he was an avid Blue Jays fan and season ticket holder and in Victoria he
enjoyed watching baseball and soccer at the Centennial arena. While his
daughter Gala was young, he enrolled her in fastball with Langford Lightning
and never missed one of her games. From the seat of his chair he had just
started teaching his grandson Max how to throw a football, a sport he played
with relish in his high school years.
John was a bonafide news junkie, he craved information; finding it,
understanding it and sharing it from political news to recipes, John was
not shy to impart some new discovery. He was surrounded by books his entire
life and through his constant reading and as a subscriber to many news
sources (and the food and sports channels) John had an encyclopedic
knowledge of just about everything – he was our own personal Google engine.
After arriving back in Victoria, John found his ideal job in the Office of
the Chief Information Officer, where he seized the opportunity to help the
rural and First Nations communities of BC connect to the information
highway. His interactive, questioning and open style of leadership allowed
him to forge bonds between individuals, communities, private businesses,
industry and governments that has given British Columbia a unique, envious
and respected global position in bridging the digital divide. With his quick
wit and focused determination, he could provoke some deputy ministers to
sigh, as he headed in their direction: “Oh, oh, here comes trouble!”. Until
his last days he remained almost umbillically connected to his work through
his laptop and blackberry.
For his 50th birthday, John was determined to tackle the West Coast Trail.
For weeks he would arise before dawn, load his pack with forty pounds of
rocks and hike from our home on Rocky Point down to Taylor Beach. For
someone with severe asthma this was no mean undertaking. However, the day
dawned when two equally crazy but indomitable friends from Toronto (Terry
Sullivan and Sid Tabak) and a local acquaintance (Jim Dakin) joined him and
they all drove off for their adventure. Five days later the scruffiest
looking group of grey-breaded guys you could imagine sat at the old Port
Renfrew Hotel. As they quaffed a few cold ones and started trading tales,
the most memorable (and truthful) declaration emerged “The best thing about
this trip is that I never have to do it again!” Apparently there are some
stairs along the trail that can make a strong man weep.
Inspired by his grandfather in Saskatchewan, who shared the podium with
Tommy Douglas, John was always interested in politics. He ran as a federal
NDP candidate in Toronto in the 1980’s (losing to Barbara McDougall) and
remained supportive of the party. John threw his hat into the municipal
arena in Metchosin in 2005 after he was told by a friend that he should
either stop complaining or run for office. Declaring at an all-candidates
meeting that he was an environmentalist, he surprised no-one but himself by
winning a seat on council. He was, for too short a time, a vocal municipal
councillor for all the qualities of rural and green life choices that make
Metchosin such a remarkable place to call home. He truly loved this wild,
wet, west coast and to his last days he continued to participate in his
community. His sense of duty and unfaltering belief in public service
motivated him to the end.
He found his soulmate in his wife Moralea Milne. They met in Montreal and
married in Victoria in 1990 having 18 wonderful years together. He
proposed by promising to cook for her forever, an offer she readily
accepted! Like his mother, he expressed love by feeding those he cared about
– and it was an enviable pleasure to sit at his table or receive the gifts
of his kitchen.
Recently both John and Moralea have been navigating the paper strewn trails
of conservation covenants as they have been preparing to place one on their
property. John felt blessed that he was able to take part in preserving in
perpetuity the rocky knolls and moss balds of Camas Hill, home of endangered
ecosystems and the red-listed sharp-tailed snake.
He was a devoted and supportive partner and a loving and mentoring father
to: Gala, Rian and Madeline Milne (Joel Hansen), and Kirsten Paterson Downes
(Justin Downes) and Cameron Paterson and a doting grandfather to Maxwell
Hansen-Milne and Hayley Downes. He was a much loved son-in-law to Florence
and Jan Janbroers, and the two families spent countless happy days together
enjoying great meals (prepared by John) and good times. No matter his
location he remained a dedicated son and brother, always supportive and
available ready to share a common sense of humour, love of books, and many
hours of laughter, debate and mutual affection with his parents and sisters.
He leaves four sisters in the Vancouver area: Suzanne Newman, Peggy
Whittall, Janet Webb (Ted Howell) and Sheila Brown; and numerous nieces and
nephews. John was predeceased by his parents Bob and Kaye Webb of North
Vancouver in 2004. As the only son in a family of 5 children, he learned
early to how get along with women. John felt fortunate to have the talented
sisters-in-law April Cornell and Brenda Bowle-Evans and brother-in-law Dr.
Rod Milne in his large, extended family.
John’s last, heartfelt piece of advise, which he was never adverse to
sharing, could be summed up in two words: “Don’t Smoke!”
John Webb Honoured with Premier’s Award
On March 27th, at the 3rd Premier’s Innovation and Excellence Awards, John
Robert Webb was posthumously awarded the Special Achievement Premier’s Award
for Service Excellence for his work on the Network BC Project. The entire
audience rose as one with a standing ovation.
Attending the dinner and award ceremony and accepting the award from Premier
Campbell on John’s behalf were his wife Moralea Milne and daughters Gala
Milne and Kirsten Downes. Familiar to most people in Metchosin for his all
too short term as a councillor, John had another aspect to his working life
that was unknown to most of his constituents. John was nominated for the
award for his “pivotal role for over eleven years in expanding Internet
connectivity to schools, libraries and, ultimately, homes throughout the
province by facilitating community-level participation and ensuring the
success of the Network BC Project, which made BC the best-connected province
in the best-connected country in the world”.
Earlier in February, John had been honoured at the 2007 Summit on
Information and Communication Technologies for Communities by the people he
worked with in rural and First Nation communities, in business and in
governments for these same accomplishments. The first John Webb Community
Networking Award was announced at the Summit as well as two access sites in
BC that have been named after him, one in the Peace River area and one at St
Eugene Mission Resort, near Cranbrook. John felt particularly grateful and
touched by the honour bestowed on him from the people he worked so
tirelessly to aid through improving their internet capability and capacity.
He is missed.
…this is my father’s obituary from 2007. a loving memory for us who knew him, a sneak peek at a fabulous story for those who didn’t get the chance to meet him, and a short overview of the life of a man who shaped my life profoundly. here’s a lovely tune by a lady who once told my dad that she loved him… truth be told! I think its a fitting song for a man who truly lived until he died.