Frank Leonard entered municipal politics in 1986, serving as a councillor until 1996, when he ran for mayor, a position he held until 2014.
Over those 28 years, he has met with ordinary people and public officials (not that these categories are mutually exclusive) of every background. So it would have likely taken some extraordinary event to get him flustered. But one such moment occurred on Sept. 25, 2010, when the district opened its fire training centre.
Then-Black Press photographer Sharon Tiffin attended the official opening and wanted to come away with something less ordinary.
“She had told me she would prefer something other than the usual ribbon cutting,” Leonard said. Since the occasion was the opening of a facility that prepares crews for high-angle rescue services, Leonard soon found himself in a harness dangling over the ground.
“So there I am hanging, cutting the ribbon,” said Leonard. “My heart was pounding so hard that I could barely hold my hands steady to cut the ribbon.” Once back on ground, Leonard thanked everyone as quickly as he could, then stole himself away to catch his breath.
In his position, Leonard found himself in the public and the paper on a constant basis. Even the most cursory flip through the archives reveals Leonard as a person of many occasions.
In a shot marking the beginning of 1997, Leonard found himself doing his best Fred Astaire impression by donning a bow-tied tuxedo and top hat adorned with the phrase Happy New Year.
Of course, any focus on Leonard’s willingness to be the public face of council threatens to exaggerate style at the expense of substance.
Space prevents a full accounting of Leonard’s local accomplishments over the span of 28 years in municipal politics. Yet any such list would likely begin with his contributions towards protecting Saanich’s agricultural heritage, a legacy that he has carried in his current role as chair of the Agricultural Land Commission.
Leonard’s experience running Vancouver Island’s largest municipality also earned him the status of an important voice in the often cacophonous chorus of Greater Victoria politicians.
And if elections measure anything, Leonard will enter Saanich’s annals as perhaps the most popular mayor in its history.
When Leonard won his mayoral election in 1996, he defeated fellow councillor John Mika with double the votes. In 1999, he faced three opponents, winning by more than 13,000 votes. He won by acclamation in 2002 and again in 2005, a feat that prompted the following headline in the Saanich News dated Oct. 19, 2005: King Frank: Automatic for the People.
“Respect. It is a concept that few people have mastered as well as Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard,” it reads. Other assessments meanwhile praise his ability to build coalitions, while planning and pushing for long-term policies.
While Leonard won two more elections after his second acclamation, his margins of victory shrank each time out. His career in municipal politics ended on Nov. 14, 2014, when he lost by some 1,000 votes to Richard Atwell. When asked at the time if he had any advice for the new incoming mayor, Leonard simply said: “Saanich is a beautiful community. Don’t break it.”
Leonard helped to make it so.