Saanich loses feisty leader with death of Irene Block

Irene Block

  • Jun. 13, 2011 11:00 a.m.

Saanich has lost a long-time community leader and woman respected for speaking her mind.

After a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, former Saanich councillor, celebrated lecturer and devoted volunteer, Irene Block died on May 27. Block was 85 and still regularly attended council meetings as treasurer of the Saanich Community Association Network.

“She wasn’t there on a power trip; she was there to serve the community,” said Carol Pickup, who served on council with Block.

Block, a native Liverpudlian, immigrated to Victoria via Calgary. She served on Saanich council from 1978-88.

Block and Pickup had initially met in 1975 when they were running against each other in a provincial election. Despite Pickup representing the New Democratic Party and Block representing the Conservatives, the women recognized their similar values and became good friends – both acquired a reputation for speaking their minds.

“We had strong opinions and we weren’t afraid to express them and if we disagreed, we made that known as well,” Pickup said. “We both had strong principals and beliefs and values and we wanted to see those upheld because we felt they were a part of what made Saanich a really good place to live.”

Block was the founder and first president of the Saanich Greenbelt Association, and a former president of the Strawberry Vale Residents Association, where she remained actively involved.

Marlene Todd, vice president of the Strawberry Vale Residents Association, met Block 12 years ago on a cruise ship. Years later, Todd says Block became her mentor, calling her a “great pillar of Saanich.”

“She was a very feisty woman who always said what was on her mind,” Todd said. “It didn’t matter whose toes she stepped on, if she believed in something, she wasn’t afraid to admit it. … She locked heads a lot of times with developers, but she was also on their side if she believed in their development.”

Saanich Coun. Vicki Sanders remembers Block not only for her community initiative, but also her grammar skills, which she sharpened by editing official documents, including Shelbourne’s local area plan.

“She was very approachable and very pro-active in letting the neighbourhoods know what was happening,” Sanders said.

It was a standard for Block to attend every site of a proposed development in Saanich prior to debate at council – a kind of hands-on approach that isn’t adopted by every member of council, Sanders said.

“It was a different time for council back then … more grassroots,” Sanders said, noting that the Block-style community spirit remains in some of today’s leaders, while the climate among residents and the media has changed.

“She made sure that nothing was done behind doors. She made sure that everything was up front and everybody knew about it,” she said. “She was feisty … she wasn’t backward about being forward.”

Pickup hopes Block will be remembered for her biggest passions: preserving the environment and community service. She was a strong supporter of Saanich’s urban containment boundaries and the agricultural land reserve, the arts and community associations.

Block was predeceased by her husband Jens Block in 2010. She is survived by her son and grandson, Jeremy and Michael Alexander, and her brother Harvey Gordon.

Block’s legacy

In Calgary, Irene Block served with: Woman’s Canadian Club, Holy Cross Auxiliary, Cancer Clinic Service Group, Canadian Citizenship Council, Desk & Derrick Club and Canadian Institute of International Affairs.

In Greater Victoria, she was a guest lecturer in various political science and business administration courses at the University of Victoria, where she was voted best lecturer by students in two separate years. In 1993 she received the Commemorative Medal approved by her Majesty the Queen, recognizing her community service. She served on the Board of Variance in Saanich from 1993 to 2003, the Canada-Chinese Friendship Association, Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, Goward Society, United Way, Royal Jubilee Hospital Board, Family Court Committee and the Provincial Capital Commission.

Celebration of life

Friends and family will celebrate Irene Block and her contributions to the community, June 25 from 2-4 p.m. at Christ Community Church, 3897 Holland Ave. Guests are welcome to speak following a eulogy by former Saanich MLA David Cubberley.

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