As Saanich and the Greater Victoria region continue to pay tribute to the late Saanich councillor Vic Derman, his daughter remembers her father as a dedicated family person who never missed a family commitment despite his busy schedule.
“For me, he was my hero,” said Michelle Derman. “He was the best father I could have ever asked for.”
Derman died Friday at the age of 72. The official cause of his death remains unknown.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know what the cause was,” said Michelle Derman. “We know it was natural causes. We know he passed away in his sleep. We know it was a quick and peaceful death.”
She said the effects of a car accident last June had made it more difficult for him to follow his regular exercise routine.
Derman was born in Saanich, where he lived his entire life and worked as teacher in the Greater Victoria school district. He leaves behind his wife Lauraine, his daughter Michelle, a sister, a brother, countless friends, political colleagues and former students, and a deep hole in the community, if reactions to his passing so far offer any measure of his legacy.
Since news of Derman’s death broke, elected officials of every political stripe including Saanich South MLA Lana Popham and ordinary citizens of every background have been paying tribute to Derman as a person of great integrity, vision and intellectual curiosity, who cared about the environment, affordable housing and climate change in Saanich and beyond.
Michelle Derman said these tributes have been amazing. “He wanted to make this a great world for everyone,” she said.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said on Facebook Sunday morning Derman’s death marked a “great loss” for the community.
In an official statement released Sunday afternoon, Atwell said he “was shocked and saddened to hear of Vic Derman’s passing. This is a profound loss for Saanich and tragic news for our community.”
Atwell described Derman as a “passionate steward and advocate for the environment” who had devoted his retirement to serving Saanich. “He was a long-serving member and integral part of Saanich council, and his accomplishments were plentiful,” said Atwell. “Vic was more than just a colleague – he was an inspiration.”
Derman had been suffering from flu and cold-like symptoms before his death, but appeared to be recovering and had made plans to attend tomorrow’s council meeting after missing last week’s session. “I talked to him Wednesday and he said he was feeling better,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff. “As you can imagine, I am totally shocked.”
Coun. Vicki Sanders agreed. “Vic’s passing was a shock,” said Sanders. “Many of us, including myself, have had the flu cold bug that has been going around. Vic had the bug and indicated he was feeling better and would be back on Monday.”
“I’m struggling to accept that his chair will be empty on Monday night,” said Coun. Dean Murdock. “I know I’ll hear his words in the decisions my colleagues and I will be asked to make at the Council table.”
Brownoff said she will remember Derman as a defender of affordable housing, the environment and efforts to fight climate change. “He always focused on the greater good,” she said.
Coun. Fred Haynes agreed. “Vic was deeply passionate about understanding the impacts of climate change, thoughtful urban planning and the need to balance environmental impacts,” he said. “His voice on these matters will be missed but his influence on all of us is lasting,” said Coun. Susan Brice, who also remembers Derman as “kind, respectful and funny.”
Coun. Colin Plant said it was too early for him to comment meaningfully about Derman’s legacy. But he nonetheless described him as a person of “integrity and vision.”
Derman’s first major post in municipal politics was with the North Quadra Community Association, where he first served on its executive as vice-president, then president between 1990 and 2002, when he won election to Saanich council.
He won re-election in 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2014 in becoming one, if not the most audible advocates for environmental sustainability in Saanich and the Capital Regional District (CRD), where he also held various positions.
Former mayor Frank Leonard — who served with Derman until 2014 — remembers Derman as someone who saw everything though the lens of environmental sustainability long before it was fashionable.
“We can all be replaced on Saanich council, but you will never be able to replace Vic because he was so principled on the issue of sustainability,” said Leonard, who had also worked with Derman when he was with the North Quarda Community Association. “You don’t find that in folks.”
Leonard said Derman was really committed to his career in municipal politics. “Being on Saanich council meant a lot to him,” he said.
Brownoff said Derman was a very good debater around the council table. “He read a lot, so he always brought new issues to the table.”
Haynes said Derman was a valuable resource. “As a new member of council, I had enormous respect for him,” said Haynes. “I learnt a great deal from watching Vic in action during our legislative processes in Saanich and the CRD.”
Derman also lived out his commitment to sustainability, as he was an active cyclist.
“Vic was a very physically active person,” said Sanders. “I feel that when his car was struck last June, [it] impacted his ability to resume his normal physical activities of cycling and playing squash.”That incident sent him, as well as Haynes and Plant who were travelling with Derman, to Saanich Peninsula Hospital for observation.
Sean Holman, a former journalist and Victoria radio host who now works as a journalism instructor in Calgary, was one of Derman’s students at Cedar Hill Middle School.
“He [Derman] was an amazingly influential and innovative teacher,” said Holman. Derman readily embraced technology in the classroom, said Holman who also credited Derman for making him a better journalist, academic and thinker.
“He did many things for the community as a councillor, but he had such an outsized influence as a teacher,” said Holman. “It’s just a reminder of how influential of a role teachers can play for young minds.”
Michelle Derman said her family plans to organize a public memorial for her late father, but a date still remains in the work.
Saanich will have to hold a municipal by-election to fill Derman’s seat, since it became vacant before January 1, 2018, the date after which council could have carried on with eight members prior to the next municipal election in November 2018.
The by-election will likely take place within three months, give or take a few days. Once Saanich has appointed a chief election officer for the by-election, this person must set a general voting day for the election, which must be on a Saturday no later than 80 days after the date of the chief election officer’s appointment.