Tears pooled in the juvenile eyes of Tim Wood as he walked home from his Huntsville, Alabama school on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. Like many living in the United States amid a crucial period of change in that country, news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy hit the Grade 7 student hard.
“He was just such a powerful leader, such a charismatic leader, in spite of all of his foibles,” Wood recalls 49 years later. “For everybody coming out of the ‘50s, we were really hoping for Kennedy to bring a new era of prosperity and hope. And he had brought it. And then we turned the corner and suddenly he wasn’t there.”
Wood, now 60, recognizes that even as a child, he was aware of the impact politics had on his life.
“I think it was a function of the time. When you’re in Alabama, it was a time of segregation – so there were white- and black-only places: buses, restaurants, drinking fountains, schools,” he says. “Coming from Canada, my parents were very conscious of that. They spent a lot of time talking about that. … There would be discussion around the table about politics.”
And, to this day, the importance of politics is not lost on him.
While his name is likely unknown to most, Wood spent the last 10 years working in the highest civil servant role at Saanich municipal hall.
Wood came to Saanich in 2002, to replace outgoing municipal administrator Bob Sharp, who spent 17 years in the job.
Wood, a father of two, came into the chief administrator job with two decades of experience already, having spent time in municipal administrator-equivalent roles since he began his career in 100 Mile House in 1980.
“I had been a returning officer, I’ve run recreation centres, I’ve processed business licences, handled taxes, been a clerk, a planner. I’ve had pretty much every job in the municipality except actually working in the public works side or responding to fires or police calls,” Wood says.
Such is the nature of working for local government in a small community, he adds. From 100 Mile, he moved on to larger municipalities: Cranbrook and Penticton, then Saanich.
The job description of a municipal administrator, or chief administrative officer, varies depending on who you ask.
“You’re coaching and mentoring your directors and other employees. You’re advising the mayor and council. You keep an eye on the public purse. You provide support in problem solving. You help council and the employees and the community find their dream – you’ve gotta find out what the dream is, where people want to be, and then help them decide how to get there,” Wood says.
Mayor Frank Leonard describes Wood’s role much more matter-of-factly.
“The CAO is council’s only employee. That’s who council holds accountable for the performance of the municipality and its workers,” Leonard says.
He adds that Wood has done an exceptional job in the role for 10 years, helping move Saanich in a direction the community wants. “We had a lot of positive outcomes for the municipality, and quite often his role was in the background,” the mayor says.
Wood gives credit for any positive outcomes to the staff at Saanich who do the work.
“I just love working with diverse groups of people. … Local government is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get on any given day,” he says. “I love people. And I love working with the public. People are never dull.”
Wood’s ability to bring out the best in people, and bring the results Saanich wanted, was unprecedented as a CAO, Leonard says. For that, Wood credits what he calls a “fundamental” piece of working in government: spirituality.
“When I say the spiritual side, I’m thinking more along the sides of being principled and ethical in your treatment of people. In fact, I think that’s often what civil servants can provide,” Wood says. “Most people can provide the technical skills, most people can have management skills. What separates some from the rest is having a highly principled approach, and the public knowing there’s integrity, and you follow through on commitments, to be honest, to be genuine, to be compassionate.”
Wood has a pack of zen cards he keeps in his desk that he uses during collective bargaining and meetings to help break the ice.
“I’ve always suggested that it’s been helpful. … It’s sort of a simple tool to remind yourself each day about living in the moment,” Wood says. “I think people really like the messages – it encourages them.
“I don’t know if that’s a function of the act that everybody has an interest in wishing wells and random acts of goodwill. There’s just something there that causes people to pause and reflect.”
While retirement has now officially begun for Wood (his last day as CAO was May 31), he’ll continue to work, albeit in a volunteer position, for government. Last month he was named to the the provincial government’s audit council, which will oversee B.C.’s new office of the Auditor General for Local Government.
Outside of that role, Wood hopes retirement brings opportunities to continue the extracurriculars he loves: being outdoors and seeing new places. And while Europe is first on the travel list, Wood says Victoria has enough offerings to see and do that he’ll never grow tired of retiring here.
With great hiking trails through Mount Doug, the Peninsula and Sooke, Wood anticipates he’ll be spending a lot of his free time out enjoying the natural environment with his wife, Françoise, at his side.
The pair were high school sweethearts – at a time when Wood was developing a balanced interest in drama and politics.
“Local government is my calling, there’s no doubt about it. It involves a little bit of drama, and theatre, and politics, which I’ve enjoyed since I was younger,” Wood says.
Even as a high school student, Wood was pretty confident his future would involve politics of some sort. He even jokes that he’s already looking to get back into it.
“In my house school annual, I kid you not, they want to know what you’re going to do in the future: I said President of the U.S.A.,” he says. “That hasn’t happened – yet. But I’m going to have a lot more free time.”