By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The Region of Durham said goodbye to perhaps the most prolific politic leader in the municipality’s history this past weekend.
Regional chair and CEO Roger Anderson passed away at the age of 65 on March 24.
Anderson held the position since 1997 and become the first publicly elected regional chair in 2014.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in November 2016 and had battled a bout with pneumonia earlier this year.
“It is with heavy hearts that the Regional Municipality of Durham announces the passing of Roger Anderson, our regional chair, and chief executive officer, following a courageous battle with cancer,” reads a statement released by the region on Saturday, March 24. “We send our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and colleagues at this difficult time. Anderson was a force in our community, and he will be profoundly missed.”
Oshawa Mayor John Henry spoke fondly of his former colleague.
“I was privileged to know Roger for a long time, not only through politics but business as well,” Henry told The Oshawa Express. “Roger was always professional in council chambers, and represented Durham Region not only across Ontario but across the country.”
Henry says even after Anderson’s cancer diagnosis, he “fought the good fight” and continued in his duties and his appreciation for life.
He recalls how proudly Anderson spoke of his young granddaughter.
Henry says the regional chair was always quick to provide advice and helped him as an elected official.
“The skill set that I learned from Roger is you have to be able to separate what you do in the council chamber from what you do outside it. It’s really about working as a team and moving forward.”
For Henry, Anderson was someone who never “sugar-coated” what he said but also a “fun person” who he considered a friend.
Oshawa Councillor Bob Chapman recalls first interacting with Anderson as an officer with the Durham Regional Police Service, a position Anderson also held.
At the time, Anderson was the chair of the region’s Police Services Board and Chapman a union representative.
“The one thing I do remember with Roger is you had to be prepared. You got a lot of ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how come’ so you had to be prepared when you were bargaining,” he said.
Later on, Chapman would join Anderson at the council table, and their friendship grew.
“He was the one who nominated me to be vice-chair of the financial administration committee, which I learned a lot from,” he says.
Chapman recalls at conferences how recognized and respected Anderson was by others in the municipal world.
“It wouldn’t be unusual while we were having a coffee for someone from another municipality, and not even in Ontario, coming to Roger for advice on how to do something,” he says. “I considered him a friend and I will miss him.”
Councillor Dan Carter says Anderson was “very impactful on his life” and supportive when he lost members of his family.
“He was there for me and my family time after time and I was proud to call him my friend.”
Calling Anderson a man with a “huge heart”, Councillor Amy McQuaid-England says she is forever grateful for the support he showed her.
“He was devoted to Durham and making sure our region had the same opportunities and funding as other municipalities in this province. He will be sorely missed,” she says.
Others offering their condolences included Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario PC Party leader Doug Ford, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
Anderson wore many hats before his entry into municipal politics.
He served as a constable with Durham Regional Police from 1978 to 1988 and also owned and operated a real estate company for 22 years.
In 1985, he earned a seat on Ajax council. He then served as deputy mayor and regional councillor for the town from 1991 to 1997.
During his time with the region, Anderson also served in many roles.
He was chair of the Durham Region Transit Commission since its inception in 2006 and saw several terms as chair of the region’s Police Services Board. He was active in the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) for 25 years, including a two-year term as president.
He played a critical role in gaining gas tax funding for transit and infrastructure for municipalities.
Locally, Anderson was on the board of directors for the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance and WindReach Farms. He served on the GO Transit board for many years and was on the founding board of Metrolinx, a director of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and chair of the Ontario Caucus.
Under Anderson’s leadership, the region saw the amalgamation of public transit and paramedic services and the opening of the Durham York Energy Centre and a new central regional facility in Whitby.
From the time he took over as regional chair, Durham’s population has grown from approximately 460,000 to 650,000.
Before his recent health issues, Anderson boasted an almost perfect attendance record for council and committee meetings.
His recent illness kept him from attending meetings so far in 2018, but colleagues noted he was still busy with regional matters and in constant contact with them.
Under the region’s council procedural bylaw, mayors of Durham’s eight municipalities assume the position of acting chair on a rotating basis.
Under this schedule, Scugog Mayor Tom Rowett will serve as acting chair until the end of May, followed by Uxbridge Mayor Gerri-Lynn O’ Connor June through August, and Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell September through the end of council’s term, November 30, 2018.
Known for having a stern, no-nonsense approach while chairing meetings, Anderson showed his softer side through his support of charitable causes.
His annual golf tournament raised more than $6 million over the past 20 years, supporting child and youth initiatives for the Ontario Shores Foundation for Mental Health, the Abilities Centre in Whitby, and students in financial need at Durham College and UOIT.
Last fall, Anderson announced his annual Building Industry for Durham Deeds luncheon will support Hearth Place Cancer Centre in Oshawa for the next four years.
A book of condolences will be available at regional headquarters, located at 605 Rossland Road East in Whitby and flags at all regional facilities will also be flown at half-mast in his memory.
Visitation will take place at the McEachnie Funeral Home, 28 Old Kingston Road, Ajax, on Wednesday, March 28 from 2-5 and 7-9 p.m. The funeral service will be held at Westney Heights Baptist Church, 1201 Ravenscroft Ave, Ajax, on Thursday, March 29, at 11:00 am.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Ajax-Pickering Hospital Foundation or a local charity of choice.